Eagles Still Searching for Answers on Offense

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

DeMarco Murray is looking to have a breakout game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Photo by Webster Riddick.

DeMarco Murray is looking to have a breakout game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Photo by Webster Riddick.

In the Philadelphia Eagles’ first four games this season, they have only played three halves of good football and have just one win.
That’s due to an offensive line that keeps allowing penetration into the backfield, which has led to a poor running game, which has led to the Eagles not being able to get anything else started offensively.

As a team, the Eagles are averaging just 3.1 yards on the ground. Running back DeMarco Murray, who led the NFL in rushing last season as the featured back for the Dallas Cowboys, has just 47 yards on 29 carries and is averaging just 1.6 yards per carry.

After the Birds 23-20 loss to the Washington Redskins, Murray complained about not getting enough carries. Considering how abysmally the offensive line has performed to this point, more carries for Murray or any of the other running backs may not help.

I’m not so sure things are going to get any better when they take on the New Orleans Saints at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday because this already much maligned offensive line is riddled with injuries. Left tackle Jason Peters left the Washington game with a quadriceps strain and it’s uncertain whether he will play on Sunday because he didn’t practice on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

Right tackle Lane Johnson played with a sprained knee and has had limited participation in practice. But even before those injuries, the Eagles haven’t gotten the running game going all season.

Center Jason Kelce said it’s been a frustrating season so far and doesn’t see things getting any better for the offense at this point.

“Really, the only reason we’re losing football games is because of offensive mistakes, penalties and frankly, not being able to run-block well and move the football,” Kelce said.”We haven’t adjusted well in game situations, we’ve gotten frazzled, when guys slant across our face we don’t handle it well. When teams blitz us, we’re not on the same page. It hasn’t been a unified offense.”

Eagles’ offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur attributes the offense’s slow start in games on the Birds inability to convert on third down situations, especially on third and long. The Eagles tied for last in the NFL in third down conversion percentage.

“I think what happens is we don’t convert on third down. You see in the second half where we’ve been able to kind of stay on the field and extend drives and score points. We converted on third down,” Shurmur said.
“Now there are multiple reasons for that. It could be a longer third down because you didn’t do so well on first or second, orit could be a manageable third down and you don’t execute that play,” Shurmur said. “So it’s a combination of things. We’re searching to make sure we get that right.”

Getting it right has been a huge challenge for the Eagles offense so far this season. In one of those few halves in which the offense has gotten into a rhythm, it’s been the Eagles passing game that’s got the offense going.

That was the case in the game against Washington where Sam Bradford completed a pair of touchdown passes that went beyond 40 yards and helped the Eagles take the lead in the fourth quarter.

Maybe the Eagles need to pass to set up the run, something that head coach Chip Kelly alluded to in his Wednesday press conference. Kelly said the Eagles inability to convert on third down comes from falling behind on first and second down.

“We’ve got to make sure we’ve got some quick throws, maybe we can get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands that are nice, easy throws to kind of get going,” Kelly said. “I think with this group, once you establish and can get into a rhythm, we can be pretty good.”

That’s something the Eagles have to do starting with the first quarter and they have to maintain that rhythm for the full 60 minutes.

(Today’s column is dedicated to the late J. Whyatt Mondesire, Publisher

and CEO of the Philadelphia Sunday Sun who passed away last Sunday)

Eagles Rookie Wide Receiver Nelson Agholor Getting Rave Reviews After Preseason Debut

By Chris Murray 

For the Chris Murray Report 

and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun 

Eagles rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor gave up Eagles a glimpse of what he can do with a spectacular 34-yard touchdown pass.  Photo courtesy of NFL.com

Eagles rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor gave up Eagles a glimpse of what he can do with a spectacular 34-yard touchdown pass. Photo courtesy of NFL.com

Although he has yet to play a regular season game in the National Football League , Philadelphia Eagles rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor has impressed his coaches and his teammates with his work ethic, his speed and his ability to catch the football throughout organized team activities in the spring and training camp in August.

“You talk about going straight forward, that boy Nelson just goes from zero to 100,” said teammate and fellow wide receiver Jordan Matthews. “I’ve just seen it day in and day out. They talk about explosive efforts every day in practice, that cat has them. You turn on the film; he’s out on every single catch.”

As the Birds first round draft choice, Agholor has a lot of work ahead of him and is going to go through the ups and downs of being a rookie. That said, the former University of Southern California star gave Eagles fans a glimpse of the upside of his potential.

In the Eagles 36-10 preseason win over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, Agholor caught five passes for 57 yards including a spectacular 34-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter that thrilled the Eagles faithful at Lincoln Financial Field.

On his touchdown, Agholor hauled in a short, overthrown hitch pass from Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez and just sped past defenders for a touchdown.

“When I caught the ball and I wanted to finish,” Agholor said. “Every day in practice we try to finish to two lines and that was the objective and I wanted to turn it into more.”

If there’s one thing that has stood out about Agholor from the time he was drafted to his first preseason game on Sunday, it’s that he  doesn’t go around tooting his own horn, at least not yet.  He’s the first to acknowledge his own mistakes. He had a couple of drops that cost the Eagles a couple of third down conversions.

“I need to work on just finding the ball and not looking at who’s throwing the ball,” Agholor said.  “I think my eyes went to the quarterback.  At the end of the day, I like the fact that it happened today.  It’s a good thing to learn from.”

During his career at USC, the 6’1”, 190-pound Agholor played in a variety spots at the wide receiver position at both the slot and as an outside receiver.   He put up numbers no matter where he played, especially in his final season with the Trojans. Agholor caught 104 passes for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said the thing he liked about Agholor when he was at USC was his ability to run after the catch.  The touchdown that Agholor scored Sunday against the Colts was a classic example of why the Eagles drafted him.

“Yeah, I mean the one thing with Nelson is when he gets the ball in his hands, he’s real explosive,” Kelly said.  “So, you’re anticipating run after the catch with him.  He did that a ton in college.”

Agholor is also showing that as a rookie that’s important for him to be a student of the game and that each situation, whether it’s practice, the film room or a live game, every situation is an opportunity for him to make his game better.

“That’s what you do every day on the practice field, too,” Agholor said. “You have meetings that carry over from previous days; you just go out there and perform what you’re coached up to do. And that’s all (Sunday) was.  It was an extended practice for a lot of us.”

If Agholor wins the starter’s job as a starting wide receiver, the Birds are going to have a pretty decent group of receiver when you throw Matthews, Miles Austin, Josh Huff and Riley Cooper into the mix.

Stop Telling Athletes to Just Shut Up and Play

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

cardaleJones

A fan on Twitter chided Ohio State quarterback for expressing his views on the Black Lives Matter Movement.

PHILADELPHIA—Last month, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones took to Twitter to express his support for the Black Lives Matter Movement and was met with the typical response from fans that African American athletes get whenever they speak on social justice issues.  

Jones tweeted: “#AllLivesMatter why is that the only ones getting beaten, killed when unarmed, & mysteriously dien in custody African-American …You tell me that #AllLivesMatter well I say how do you define “All”?

An Ohio State fan responded with: “Worry about getting us fans another championship …Stay out of this bulls—.”    

Jones shot back at the fan with a Tweet steeped in sarcasm: “Sorry Mr. master, I aints allow to tweet nothing but foolsbaall stuff I donts want you think I more than a foots ball playa sir.”

The fan then apologized to Jones and later shut his Twitter site down.

Last week, I wrote about the complaints that several former Philadelphia Eagles players have leveled about ill treatment at the hands of head coach Chip Kelly, some of which has accused the former Oregon coach of racism. In a recent story on the Bleacher Report website, a pair of unnamed Eagles said that it wasn’t racism, but Kelly’s need to have total, dictatorial control of his team.

Like it or not, some veteran ball players aren’t going to take too well to that kind of coaching and some like former Eagle Brandon Boykin are going to complain about it, possibly in front of a live microphone.

Now whether or not I agree with the athlete isn’t the point. His right to be honest and have his own opinions is. While I have no problem debating the veracity or even the credibility of an athlete’s point of view, it bothers me when fans and media people tell athletes, especially African-American athletes, to just “shut up and play.”

For example, you might have thought that former Eagle Cary Williams’s complaints about Kelly’s hard practices causing team burnout late in the season may have been a little ridiculous considering some of the completions he gave up in some of those games, but I appreciated the man’s honesty.

And it’s hard to take reporters seriously when they complain about clichéd responses from athletes when sincere, heartfelt answers that challenge whatever the prevailing narrative is at the moment also bring scorn.  

Of course, the first response that seems to come from social media or sports talk radio when professional athletes speak their minds is that they have no right to complain because of the millions of dollars they make. It’s as if money is supposed to suppress your right to express yourself.

You’re supposed to turn a blind eye to injustice just because you’re rich. Your financial security means that you can’t protest your work conditions the way Curt Flood did in refusing to be traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies, the move that eventually led to free agency in Major League Baseball.

Being a Black man of means doesn’t mean that you won’t still have problems getting a cab in New York or Boston. It also doesn’t mean that you won’t get pulled over by the cops for no reason other than the color of your skin like any other Black person in America.

For African-American athletes there’s a perception that they should be grateful for making the millions they make and shouldn’t rock the boat by daring to make a statement about something that impacts everyone, including them. While there is a certain amount of gratitude that these athletes probably have for their God-given abilities, they’re in the NFL because of that ability and their hard work. It’s something they’ve earned…and they shouldn’t be expected to give up their First Amendment rights in order to enjoy it.

What’s really ironic about all this is that I’ve heard those complaints in blue-collar, union towns like Philly, Baltimore, Boston, Pittsburgh, New York, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit.

Seems to me that you folks need a little bit of a history lesson, so let me help you out.

Were it not for people like Walter P. Reuther (United Auto Workers), A. Philip Randolph (Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters), and Cesar Chavez (United Farm Workers), people who refused to just “shut up and work” and rocked the boat instead, that 40-hour work week, with the living wage, the paid sick and vacation days and the healthcare plan that so many of you union workers enjoy wouldn’t exist.

Might want to remember that the next time you want to shut down your favorite athlete on Twitter.

 

 

 

Eagles 2015 Training Camp Preview: Several Unanswered Questions

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

Eagles running back Darren Sproles ability to make plays in space makes the Eagles an exciting offense.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles running back Darren Sproles ability to make plays in space makes the Eagles an exciting offense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA –With the Phillies playing out a bad season, sports fans in the City of Brotherly Love are now focused on the only team that has a chance to have a winning season and make a run to the postseason.

As Philadelphia Eagles training camp approaches, fans have a lot to be excited about and also a lot of reasons to be concerned. The Birds situation is arguably better than that of the city’s other three teams because despite all of the changes, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.

One thing that Eagles fans have to feel good about is that DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher last season, will be their starting running back. They will also have good change of pace backs in Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still a whole lot of question marks on the offense. After cutting offensive linemen Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans, the Birds are hoping that Allen Barbre (6-4, 310 pounds), likely the new left guard, and Matt Tobin (6-6, 290), whose expected to win the starting job at right guard, will be upgrades at these positions.

The team also signed John Moffitt (6-4, 319) last month. Moffitt, who took a year away from football to deal with substance abuse issues, gives Eagles some much need depth along the offensive line in case someone gets hurt. The way things have gone for the Eagles in terms of injuries last year that might be important. Dennis Kelly (6-8, 321), Andrew Gardner (6-6, 308) and Kevin Graf (6-6, 309) also have to be ready to go are among the guys that need to be ready even if you have injuries to the starters.

Having a solid offensive line is crucial because the Eagles have to protect starting quarterback Sam Bradford, who hasn’t played a full season since 2012. If he can survive the season, fans will definitely be optimistic. But if Bradford gets hurt, can head coach Chip Kelly or the fan base stomach the idea of the mistake-prone Mark Sanchez running the Eagles offense for a sustained period of time?

Among the Eagles wide receiver corps, will second-year wide receiver Jordan Matthews become the go-to-guy in the passing game? Will rookie Nelson Agholor, with his 4.4 speed, be able to find his way on the field and be an important part of the Eagles passing game? It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

On defense, the Eagles will have a solid front-seven that includes linebackers DeMeco Ryans and newly acquired inside linebacker Kiko Alonso. This could also be a breakout season for defensive end Fletcher Cox, who is coming off a 2014 season in which he had a career-high in tackles with 70 (59 solo) and four sacks.

The sticking point for the Eagles defense coming into the 2015 season is the secondary, which got torched quite often late in the season. The inability of the Birds secondary to keep opposing receivers from piling up yards and lighting up the scoreboard kept them out of the playoffs despite a 10-6 record.

The Eagles ranked 31st in net passing yards per game in 2014 and the most touchdowns of 20 yards or more and the only holdover from that unit is safety Malcolm Jenkins.

The Birds got former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell, who played well during the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run. But there’s uncertainty about Nolan Carroll and Eric Rowe, the other two guys vying for cornerback spots. Carroll is a pro that couldn’t get much playing time in the other places he’s played and Rowe is a second-round draft pick who hasn’t played a down as a pro.

Meanwhile at the other safety spot, Kelly is counting on former Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond. Thurmond is a converted cornerback who has never played at the safety spot and has been injury-prone throughout his five-year career.

If the Eagles fail to shore up this part of their defense, New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Washington Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson and Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant could be licking their chops.

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.  

 

Breaking it Down: Did Eagles Free Agents Moves Put Them in the Right Direction?

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

DeMarco Murray will don the Eagles green jersey for the next five years. The Birds signed him to a five-year-deal worth $42 million ($18 million guaranteed).

DeMarco Murray will don the Eagles green jersey for the next five years. The Birds signed him to a five-year-deal worth $42 million ($18 million guaranteed).

PHILALDELPHIA—When the Eagles traded running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso, Eagles fans began pulling out their collective hair.

When the team didn’t re-sign free agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who was coming off his best year as an NFL wide receiver, and said good-bye to fan favorites like defensive end Trent Cole, many fans started combing the want ads in search of a general manager to put to put Coach Chip Kelly’s baser impulses in check.

Was he giving away the farm so he could draft his old Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota? Or was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith correct in wondering if Kelly was just thinning his herd of Black players?

Then the Birds traded Nick Foles to the St. Louis Rams for oft-injured quarterback Sam Bradford.  For some diehard fans, that the Eagles were content with remaining the champs of the “Salary Cap Bowl.”

But when the dust settled, Kelly may have had the last laugh when the Birds landed the biggest prize of the March free-agent period, former Dallas Cowboys running DeMarco Murray.

“We felt like when the opportunity with LeSean came up and it was offered, you’ve got an outstanding  young linebacker at a position that we had a huge need at,” Kelly said. “Really the biggest factor with LeSean, it was LeSean and the money and what could that get us.”

Kelly even took time to dispel any notion that he was still going after Mariota in the upcoming NFL Draft. Although, you probably shouldn’t put it past him given what has transpired thus far.

“I think Marcus is the best quarterback in the draft,” Kelly said at a recent press conference. “We will never mortgage our future to go all the way up to get somebody like that because we have too many other holes that we are going to take care of.”

Former Eagles linebacker and WIP Radio host Garry Cobb said the only way Kelly would be able to pick up Mariota if he’s not picked in the top five.

“I think the longer he’s on there and he gets to 10, I think it’s going to be difficult for Chip not to make a move to get him,” Cobb said.

The Eagles signed Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher, to a five-year contract for $42-million ($18-milion guaranteed). The Birds had offered a three-year deal to former San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore, but he changed his mind and signed with the Indianapolis Colts.

The main caveat with both Murray and Bradford is that they both have had their share of injuries. Bradford missed all of last season and part of the 2013 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Dating back to his college days at Oklahoma, Murray has had seven injuries in his legs-knee injuries, ankle injuries and hamstring ailments.

That reality made Cobb question the wisdom of the Eagles giving Murray so much money.

“The whole thing is you’ve got stay healthy,” Cobb said. “I don’t think it’s a frugal or wise thing to do to put all that money into a running back knowing that running backs do get hurt and you’re going to guarantee him $18-21 million.  That’s high for a running back …and it’s the same thing for the quarterback. A lot of times availability is better than ability.  If they don’t stay healthy all bets are off.”

Last season, Murray ran for a league-leading 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns while leading the Cowboys to their first NFC East crown since 2009.  The former Oklahoma star said he likes the Birds chances of making it to the Super Bowl and winning it.

“I felt this was a great opportunity for me to win a Super Bowl at the end of the day,” Murray said. “It wasn’t about financial security or anything like that.  I think the Eagles have a great chance to win the Super Bowl. It’s not going to be easy. I know there’s a lot of hard work to be done. It’s easy to stand up here and say that, but we got to get to work.”

The Eagles also signed former San Diego Chargers star running back Ryan Matthews, who will get a few carries to take the burden off Murray.

The Eagles offense wasn’t the only beneficiary of Kelly’s bold moves. The team’s much-maligned secondary got a huge boost with the signing of former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell.

As a key of member of the Seahawks famed “Legion of Boom” secondary, Maxwell led his team in passes defended because teams refused to throw toward his teammate cornerback Richard Sherman.  While he is definitely better than what the Eagles had last season, Maxwell has a lot to prove in his first year without arguably the best shutdown corner in the game playing alongside him.

According to Pro Football Focus.com, Maxwell was targeted once for every 5.8 cover snaps, allowing just one touchdown and holding passers to a 78.5 quarterback rating. Only three other corners in the league who were targeted as often Maxwell were better than him.  In 2014, he had a pair of interceptions and defended 12 passes.

“Without a doubt I think (Maxwell) has the opportunity to be an outstanding cornerback,” Cobb said. “He did have a lot of heat on him last year playing opposite of Richard Sherman and they’re throwing at you every down. Anytime your guy is open, they’re looking for your guy by them staying away from Sherman. That’s a lot of pressure.”

Even with Murray and Maxwell, the Eagles still need to pick up a wide receiver and a safety via the draft or the next wave of free agency in June.

“We are trying to accumulate as many good football players as we can,” Kelly said.

But if they’re not as good as the ones he got rid of, Kelly may be heading back to Oregon sooner than he planned.

Will McCoy Trade Make Eagles Better?

LeSean McCoy, the Eagles alll-time leading rusher, is now the newest member of the Buffalo Bills. Photo by Webster Riddick


By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—The first day of NFL free agency isn’t until next week (March 10), but the Philadelphia Eagles are already making a lot of noise as head coach Chip Kelly begins his tenure as the man in charge of the team’s personnel decisions.

On Tuesday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Birds have traded LeSean “Shady” McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for inside linebacker and former University of Oregon star Kiko Alonso. The trade can’t be finalized until 4 p.m. E.T. next Tuesday.

Meanwhile, McCoy’s agent Drew Rosenhaus denied that the trade has taken place via Twitter.

“I just spoke with the Eagles organization and there is no trade for LeSean at this time,” he said. There have been discussions but nothing has been finalized.”

Soon to be former Bills running back C.J. Spiller told the NFL Network the Bills called him to inform him that the team was acquiring McCoy and that it told him that his services were no longer needed in Buffalo.

A source close to McCoy told ESPN that 2013 NFL rushing leader is frustrated by the proposed trade and is  “not going to make it easy”—whatever that means.    

The trade was no doubt a cost cutting move for the Eagles because McCoy’s salary counted $11.95 million against the Birds 2015 cap. The Bills will have to pay McCoy, who is signed through 2017, $10.25 million this season.  

In addition to trading McCoy, the Eagles released longtime defensive end Trent Cole, who would have counted $11.6 million against the salary cap and veteran cornerback Cary Williams whose salary was a little over $ 8 million against the cap.

Now the Eagles have to find a replacement for a running back in McCoy who ran for 6,792 yards rushing and averaged 100.2 yards from scrimmage in six seasons playing for the Birds. Last season, he was third in the NFL in rushing with 1,319 yards.McCoy had the best year of his career in 201when he rushed for 1,607 yards while leading the league in rushing.

The question is will the Eagles go the free agent route for a running back where you have guys like DeMarco Murray and Adrian Peterson of the market or find new running back in the upcoming NFL draft with players like University of Wisconsin star Melvin Gordon and University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley.

Since Kelly’s offense is predicated upon having a strong running game, he needs to replace McCoy’s versatility at that position quickly. That’s going to easier said than done. While everyone likes to say the NFL has become a passing league, you still need a difference maker at the running back position.  

The Eagles are expecting Alonso to be that tough enforcer in the middle and to play with the same level of intensity he did during his rookie with the Bills in 2013. He had 159 tackles and finished second in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.

Before the start of last season, Alonso tore his ACL and was done for the season.  Because of this and Alonso’s history of injuries, Birds fans are wondering if Alonzo will be the second coming of Ray Lewis, or someone that the Philadelphia 76ers would have wasted a draft pick on.

Alonso will need to be a difference maker immediately for a defense that couldn’t stop snitching. The Philadelphia Eagles defense ranked a mediocre 28th in yards allowed (31st against the pass).

On the surface, this trade, along with the release of two other veterans is a sign to fans that Kelly is also maneuvering to move up in the draft to get Heisman Trophy and University of Oregon standout Marcus Mariota, whom Kelly coached.

But if he were as smart as he thinks he is, Kelly would have used McCoy as a bargaining chip to move up instead of sending him as a birthday gift to new Bills coach Rex Ryan.

This also doesn’t do anything to solve the Eagles other problems. The team is looking to re-sign wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. The needs at the cornerback and safety positions are so obvious Stevie Wonder could see them.

Kelly’s bold moves will either make him look like the second coming of Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson and lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl or make him look like a colossal failure a la Nick Saban and other college coaches who couldn’t make it in the pros.

But in any case, the Eagles have already won the one competition they’ve scored high in since Jeffrey Lurie bought the team years ago.

They have, once again, won the Salary Cap Bowl.

Eagles Cash in Their Biggest Chip on Alonso

New Eagles linebacker Kiko Alonso will join a defense that ranked 28th in yards allowed. Photo by Buffalo Bills.com

New Eagles linebacker Kiko Alonso will join a defense that ranked 28th in yards allowed. Photo by Buffalo Bills.com


By Barry Federovitch

For the Chris Murray Report


PHILADELPHIA–Are the Philadelphia Eagles threatening to become Oregon East? Or is there a method to Chip Kelly’s madness in what has begun to transpire this NFL offseason?

With rumors running rampant that the Birds will make every effort to trade up in the 2015 NFL Draft so that they might acquire former Duck Marcus Mariota, Kelly plucked another one of his star fledglings yesterday when in principle the team acquired linebacker Kiko Alonso from the Buffalo Bills.

The Bills’ bill for this Duck? One of the best running backs in the game, 26-year-old LeSean McCoy, the same Shady who led the NFL in rushing in 2013 with 1,607 yards and is the game’s third-leading rusher since he came into the league in 2009.

One of the game’s most durable backs (having missed only six games in six seasons), McCoy was the Eagles’ face of the franchise and will be difficult to replace, having amassed over 9,000 yards from scrimmage during that time.

Superficially, the move makes sense as NFL running backs tend to wear out faster than the tread on a decade-old tire. And by averaging only 4.2 yards per carry, matching his lowest average since his rookie year, maybe the Eagles are wise to get something in return for McCoy before his value shrinks to nothing, though his age is not a factor.

Add the savings on what is reported by the Philadelphia Daily News to be an $11.95 million salary cap number and the move looks savvy.

Alonso was a standout for Kelly at Oregon and second in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year race two seasons ago, making 159 tackles. When healthy, Alonso plays sideline to sideline and can play every linebacking position. For a defense that finished 28th overall last season (including 31st against the pass), he would seem to be a great acquisition.

But the operative words in the above assessment are ‘when healthy’ because Alonso’s resume in that area isn’t exactly sparkling of late.

Alonso’s rise to superstardom was cut short last summer when he tore his left ACL while working out back in Eugene. Seven months of rehab followed and while he is reportedly doing well, it remains to be seen if he will be as dominant as before the injury (which was his second major knee injury as he sat out all of 2010 rehabbing an injury sustained in the spring).

Just five weeks before last summer’s knee issue, Alonso was sidelined by a torn labrum. And while Alonso didn’t miss a game in 2013, he ‘’tweaked’’ his knee late in the season and played at less than 100 percent.

The dropoff wasn’t significant, but he recorded fewer tackles in the second half of the year and didn’t have a sack, forced fumble or interception in any of the team’s final seven games.

Does that sound like the type of player one would want to trade for LeSean McCoy?

Make no mistake that the Eagles need to get better defensively if they are to get back to the top of the NFC East, a division wide open as the Cowboys face running back issues and the Giants and Redskins hope to rebound from sorry seasons. A healthy Alonso, who in 2013 looked like one of the best young linebackers in the game, could be one of the pieces to get them there.

But the Eagles may just as easily be on a wild goose chase in opting for a player, who also has a history of being hypersensitive and carries some off-the-field baggage. In 2010, before he got injured, he was cited for DUI.

Then in May, 2011, he was arrested and charged with felony burglary, criminal mischief and criminal trespass. Alonso received two years’ probation and did 200 hours of community service while Kelly suspended him from the team.

Almost four years down the road, Alonso has done much to mature and move beyond his shady past. But he will have do a lot more to justify the trade of Shady, one of the best backs in Eagles’ history, in a move that carries just as much risk as possible reward.

 

Eagles Season on the Brink After Beating Themselves in Loss to Washington

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

Mark Sanchez passed for 370 yards and two touchdowns, but tossed an interception that set up the game-winning field goal for Washington.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Mark Sanchez passed for 370 yards and two touchdowns, but tossed an interception that set up the game-winning field goal for Washington. Photo by Webster Riddick.

LANDOVER, Md.—It’s official. The Philadelphia Eagles season is officially on life support thanks to what only can be described as a bad loss to a Washington team that is going nowhere fast.

Kai Forbath’s 26-yard field goal with five seconds left put the Birds postseason hopes in dire straits and they’re going to need a lot of help and lots of luck.

If the Dallas Cowboys beat the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, the Eagles will be officially eliminated from the playoffs. They were officially eliminated from wild card consideration and can only win the NFC East to get to the postseason.

Dallas would have to lose their last two games and the Eagles would have to beat the New York Giants next week.

Three weeks ago, the Eagles were in the playoff driver’s seat and now they’ve lost three straight.

Given how the Birds 27-24 loss to Washington turned out, you could say that the Eagles don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. Teams that make the postseason don’t make the kinds of mistakes the Birds made Saturday night—Two turnovers, two missed field goals and 13 penalties.

“You’re not going to win football game that way,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “We left them on the field too many on third down when we got penalties to extend drives. You felt like you had a stop. Thirteen penalties and two turnovers isn’t going to win you games in this league.”

There was a lot in the wreckage of this latest Eagles loss.

Let’s start with the quarterback position. With all due respect to Mark Sanchez, he is not the guy to lead your playoff push. He has 13 turnovers in seven games. Against Washington, the Birds back-up quarterback committed two turnovers—a fumble and possibly a season-killing interception late in the fourth quarter.

The miscues took away from what was a pretty good performance by Sanchez, who completed 37-of-50 passes for 374 yards and two touchdown passes to Riley Cooper. The Eagles rolled up 495 yards of offense. Tight end Zach Ertz had a team-record 15 receptions for 115 yards.

But with the game and the season on the line, Sanchez tossed a “Hail No,” instead of a Hail Mary to set up the game-winning field goal for Washington.

“It’s tough to swallow,” Sanchez said. “You want to get a win, especially with some of the outstanding performances we had. It’s really too bad when that happens and we lose.”

Now to say it was all Sanchez’s fault would be factually incorrect.

Somehow Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis didn’t remember the lesson of last Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys when wide receiver Dez Bryant torched cornerback Bradley Fletcher for three touchdowns: Give your cornerback safety help or at least have someone with him in double coverage.

The Birds “old friend” and former teammate DeSean Jackson had a field day and made Fletcher the “Toast” of D.C. He caught four passes for 126 yards including a pair of 50-yard plus passes that led to Washington touchdowns.

Fletcher was actually taken out of the game and replaced by Nolan Carroll at one point.

“(Fletcher) has had two bad weeks in a row. He was hoping to get out of that slump,” Davis said. “He didn’t. They went at him deep and they made the plays on him. I made the switch. … I think Fletch is a good corner, he’s lacking some confidence right now. They’ve been making some plays right on him, he’s in a slump.”

Oddly enough, the Eagles defensive coaches finally figured it out midway through the fourth  when Robert Griffin III went to the D-Jax well one more time on the deep bomb but safety Nate Allen backed up Fletcher and came away with the interception. By then it was too little, too late.

Another sure way to snatch defeat from what should have been the jaws of victory is to commit too many penalties. The Eagles committed 13 penalties for 102 yards.

Some of those penalties prolonged Washington drives on the defensive side of the ball including a roughing the passer penalty on defensive end Vinny Curry that moved Washington deep into the Eagles territory to set up the game-winning field goal.

“We just gotta play with more discipline. That’s what penalties are. That many, we just got to play with more discipline,” Davis said. “We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. You can’t beat yourself in the NFL.”

While there were a couple of questionable roughing the passer calls, there were some penalties had no business committing. Early in the first quarter, cornerback Cary Williams got flagged for shoving Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon. It was a stupid penalty that should have been a third down stop.

Then the unthinkable thing happened. The always reliable Cody Parkey missed a pair of easy field goals inside of 40 yards. It was that kind of day for the Eagles.

“That’s the part that sucks because we know how much work we put in,” said Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham. “For us to beat ourselves that’s the worst way to go out.”

Suffice it to say, the City of Brotherly Love will be Colts fans on Sunday.

Seahawks Defense, Russell Wilson Too Much For Eagles

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Rough day for Mark Sanchez and the Eagles offense at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.  Photo by Webster Riddick

Rough day for Mark Sanchez and the Eagles offense at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks. Photo by Webster Riddick

PHILADELPHIA—To break down the Eagles 24-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, you don’t have to be some over-hyped ex-player turned broadcaster or someone well-versed in the Xs and Os.

The Seahawks were simply better than the Eagles, especially on defense. Looking at the numbers, Seattle’s famed “Legion of Boom” just shut down the Eagles fast-paced offense that came into the game averaging over 400 yards per game.

Seattle held the Birds potent offense to just 139 yards. The Eagles were held to under 100 yards rushing (57) and passing (82). The Seahawks held the Birds offense to just nine first downs and limited them to 45 plays. They also sacked quarterback Mark Sanchez three times and forced two turnovers.
“You can hurry up all you want but if you cannot complete passes, then it’s just quick three and outs,” said Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. “We had a lot of guys play fantastic football today.”

The Eagles managed to sustain just one scoring drive over 50 yards. That drive ended with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to tight end Zach Ertz to cut the Seahawks lead to 17-14 early in the third quarter.

“We tried to establish the run. Thought we could do a better job up front,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “Obviously, we didn’t get stated the way wanted to get it started and they did a good job. ..We got them with (Zach) Ertz on one play, but besides that, there wasn’t a lot to write home about.”

The Birds other scoring drive was set up by a fumbled snap by Seahawks punter Jon Ryan early in the first quarter that was returned by Ertz to the Seattle 14.

Six plays later, the Eagles got a one-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to Jeremy Maclin for a 7-0 lead—the Birds first and only lead of the game.

The turning point of the game came in the third quarter on the Eagles first play from scrimmage in the second half when running back LeSean McCoy’s fumble was recovered by safety Earl Thomas at the Birds 19. Two plays later, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson hit running back Marshawn Lynch with a 15-yard touchdown pass to give them a 17-7 lead.

“Obviously, it was terrible timing. That was my fault,” said McCoy, who became the Eagles all-time leading rusher. “I should have been more aware of ball security. The situation of the game, trying to come back and to get a turnover that fast, that was really bad.”

On offense, Wilson outfoxed the tough Eagles defense with both his feet and his arm. Scrambling around the pocket like a modern-day Fran Tarkenton, Wilson kept the Eagles defense off balance, completing 22-of-37 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns.

Wilson also had 10 carries for 48 yards including a 26-yard touchdown run for the Seahawks first score of the game.

“There were a couple times when we had missed an assignment and that hurt us. You can’t do that against a good quarterback,” said Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin. “Russell Wilson did a really nice job. He made some plays tonight.”

After the Eagles cut the Seattle lead to 17-14 on Sanchez’s TD pass to Ertz, Wilson led the Seahawks on a five play, 91-yard drive that was aided by a 44-yard pass interference call on Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher against Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin.

Two plays later, Wilson hit Baldwin for a 23-yard touchdown pass to put Seattle up by 10. The Eagles would get no closer.