Brian Baldinger
Baldy on his experience as an NFL center and what Jason Kelce is centering on. Photo by Andy Lewis /

With one final OTA remaining for your Philadelphia Eagles, the off season is near completion.

It went by lightning quick. Nearly six months after the Birds won a New Year’s Day game against the Dallas Cowboys to finish 7-9; there is one question that requires examining: are the Eagles better today than they were on New Year’s Day?

The answer is yes. A resounding YES.

To understand why, I would like to go back to November 6, 2016; week 9 of last season.

The Birds were in a NFC EAST donnybrook vs. the New York Giants.

The Eagles were a respectable 4-3 and coming off a disappointing Sunday night overtime loss to the Cowboys. Carson made his first visit to Giants stadium and got off to an inauspicious start throwing two costly first-quarter interceptions resulting in easy scores for the Giants. But after halftime he settled down and heated up.

The Giants had the ball with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter and were facing third and 4 at their own 29 yard line.

Connor Barwin had a good rush on Eli and tipped a pass intended for tight end Will Tye that was picked off by linebacker Jordan Hicks, who was in zone coverage and read the eyes of Eli perfectly.

Once the ball was tipped the trajectory changed and Hicks would make a diving interception of the deflected pass.

Untouched after the great catch, he would immediately get up and rumble to the Giants 34-yard line before being tackled.

The defense made a great stop and celebrated by jumping into each other’s arms.

The offense trotted back onto the Giants turf with first and 10 at the 34 yard line with 1:48 left and a time out in their back pocket.

Plenty of time to score a touchdown, only down 28-23, and a chance to win their first division game and finish the first half of the season 5-3 and remain in the NFC playoff hunt.

Giants fans sat restlessly as Carson, on first down, fired a perfect strike to Nelson Agholor on a skinny post for 17 yards. The Birds faced first and 10 now at the Giants 17 with 1:41 remaining.

The clock wasn’t the enemy. Every team in the league practices this very situation year round.

The final four snaps of the game resulted in four straight incompletions and a heartbreaking 28-23 loss. Let’s quickly review what happened on the last four plays.

On first and 10, the Eagles sent all five receivers out in the route.

The Giants countered with a six-man rush where their best defensive player, Olivier Vernon was free to rush Carson, unblocked. The Eagles, inexplicably had Agholor run a stutter and go. There is no time to run a stutter and go when Vernon had a free run at Carson. Wentz had little choice but to throw the ball away.

On second and 10, Doug Pederson motioned Sproles out of the backfield into a stack formation behind Jordan Mathews. It resulted in a 4 X 1 formation.

Again the Eagles flooded the field with five receivers while defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, came after the Wentz with a six-man rush. This time JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) came free, chasing Wentz early on as an option route to Sproles resulted in an errant throw by Wentz.

On third and 10, The Eagles set up a screen to Sproles going left. This time, Spags came with even more pressure bringing a seven-man blitz and playing pure man to man behind the all-out blitz.

It was a bizarre call because screens take time to set up and Wentz had no time to allow the screen to set up. Immediately, inside linebacker Jonathan Casillas, came free up the middle and hit Wentz as he tried to lob the ball over JPP. It nearly was intercepted.

On fourth and 10, the Eagles took a shot to the end zone as Jordan Matthews was lined up one on one vs. Trevin Wade.

It was a popular route where Agholor ran an in cut from the wide receiver position while Mathews ran a fade v Wade. The timing between Matthews and Wentz was not good. It was a play that everyone at every level runs and a good throw beats the coverage in most cases. Mathews was able to reach up with his right hand and make a good effort to make a sensational catch but it was not the case. One play separated the Birds from finishing the first half of the season 5-3 v 4-4, and winless in three tries in the NFC EAST.

I revisited a week-nine loss to Big Blue to show why the Eagles are better today in mid-June than they were in the beginning of November last season. They had four tries to make a play to win a huge game last year and came up empty on all four tries.

Just the signing of Alshon Jeffery gives Carson a better option today than anyone the Birds had on the field last season. Having a better option to throw to to win a game makes Pederson, and Wentz better. Spags, like most DC’s, are not going to sit back in the situation and allow a quarterback time to survey the field. He is going to force the QB to make and instant decision and live with it. Jeffries has made a nice living, when healthy, of winning in those types of situations.

Adding the speed that Torrey Smith has makes guys like Spags leery of blitzing six or seven guys in pressure situations because one mistake with no safety help can result in easy home runs for the offense. He also keeps at least one safety a little deeper than they usually like to play because of the deep threat.

Eager and ready to learn is rookie fifth-round pick, Shelton Gibson from West Virginia.

When I announced one of his very first games in 2014, as a freshman, I thought he had first round potential all over him.

He possessed great speed and the ability to hang in the air chasing balls that were thrown high. After an average career at West Virginia, he had a rather disappointing combine workout in Indianapolis that resulted in his stock dropping. Some guys test well and Indy and are overrated as a result; while others underwhelm and their stock drops.

I think Gibson is a guy that plays faster than he ran and by mid-season I expect him to make a contribution on Sundays. Meanwhile the additions of these 3 players should drive the competition with holdovers to squeeze the most possible from Agholar and DGB.

Two fourth round picks are interesting to see how and when they will contribute. Both Hollins and Pumphrey have real skills but one never knows how soon a true rookie will be ready to contribute knowing there are mistakes to be made but will those mistakes be egregious enough to take off the field in crunch time.

Perhaps the biggest addition was the final addition to this offense. LeGarrette Blount had a tremendous season last year where he had 299 carries and 18 touchdowns. He is a volume carrier whereby the more touches he gets the better he gets. He is a large man that has obvious power but can get to top speed pretty quickly. They needed a starting running back with real power. This quality keeps him on the field in all short yardage situations and goal line tries. Sproles, Smallwood and Pumphrey can all play the role of change of pace back.

The result of these additions will often be referred as Wentz’ Weapons.

Wentz should be better with better talent around him, while Pederson the play caller should also get better because he has better options to call plays for.

Ultimately, there will be games that will come down to final possessions. If you find ways to win those games because you have better talent then this was a good off-season. But if they still squander opportunities from the 17 yard then what they have added won’t be that monumental.

What Howie/Douglas/Weidl have said since the end of Wentz’ rookie campaign is that “we will never stop building around Carson.” It’s a sound philosophy, and a plan that has been well executed this off-season. Now it’s time to start building the team around the additions of Wentz’ Weapons that hopefully result in more wins in 2017.

16 Jun 17 - Eagles, Football, Football Training, NFL - Brian Baldinger - No Comments