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Joe Banner Q&A: Offensive and defensive lines need to be the key to an Eagles turnaround

In this week's Q&A, former Eagles president Joe Banner discusses his former team's 3-4 start and explains why NFL teams have developed a severe case of trade-deadline fever.

Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott spent 12 years with the Eagles, including two as their defensive coordinator.
Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott spent 12 years with the Eagles, including two as their defensive coordinator.Read moreAdrian Kraus / AP

Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A during the season with the Inquirer’s longtime pro football writer Paul Domowitch. This week’s conversation:

Domo: Would it be safe to say you were a little surprised by your old team getting their heads handed to them Sunday for the second straight week?

Banner: It was a pretty disappointing performance. I thought because the game was in Dallas and (with) their injury situation, it was a could-go-either-way game, in spite of my earlier belief that the Eagles are a better team than the Cowboys.

To see them really get beaten badly in every phase of the game, and to see some of the exploitation of some of their weaknesses almost without resistance was really shocking.

When a game starts the way that one did and you find yourself down 14-0, everything gets distorted. Nonetheless, there’s no excuse, and no way to justify or explain how completely manhandled they were.

Domo: Speaking of being down 14-0, Sunday was the sixth time in seven games that the Eagles have had to deal with a double-digit deficit, and the sixth time they’ve let their opponent score on its first possession. That’s a tough way to make a living.

Banner: This is not the way you win in the NFL. You don’t need to use deep, complex analytics to know that teams that score first win a high percentage of the games. Teams that lead at halftime win a huge percentage of the games. In most years, it’s over 80 percent. Everybody focuses on quarterback comebacks and the fourth quarter and everything. But the truth is, if you’re ahead at halftime, you win four out of five times. And they’re falling behind by 10 and 14 points before you settle into your seat to watch the game.

Domo: The Eagles have pointed to last year’s turnaround from a 4-6 start as an indication that this 3-4 start isn’t the end of the world. But is this different?

Banner: I think it is. The ingredients that they’ve had for success aren’t in place right now. Unless you have an extraordinary secondary, which they don’t, you can’t win in the NFL without consistently pressuring the quarterback. And that continues to be a problem for them. If they can’t get that fixed, it’s going to be very difficult to turn it around like they did last year.

Same thing with the offensive line. The left tackle-left guard play has been inconsistent. And while it doesn’t happen often, (right tackle Lane) Johnson had a bad game last week as well. That certainly can’t happen when you’re struggling on the left side. The two lines are the foundation that they’ve built their success on. It’s been based on their ability to dominate those areas. And right now, that’s not happening.

>>Last Week’s Q&A: Eagles will have big coaching advantage vs. Cowboys on Sunday night

Domo: Besides their on-field struggles, the Eagles have been dealing with other issues. An anonymous player criticized quarterback Carson Wentz and the offense to an ESPN reporter. After the loss to the Cowboys last week, Lane Johnson suggested some players had been showing up late for meetings and practices. And on Friday, former Eagle Orlando Scandrick said the Eagles have some accountability issues and still are “living on that Super Bowl high.’’ Your thoughts?

Banner: I’m going to be a little skeptical. But if this is going on and they have players that are feeling like they have to go to the media with complaints, if they have players who are, in fact, showing up late for meetings and practice, these are serious problems.

The organizations that win, and the Eagles when they won, are very disciplined, very focused on a common goal. When something like these things happen, strong leadership steps in right away and doesn’t let it feel like it’s acceptable to behave that way.

I’m going to put an “if’’ that it is happening and to what degree. But if it is, this is a real, real concern. And this will be a real obstacle to turning it around. You just can’t have that. It’s just not the foundation you need to have to win.

Domo: The trade deadline is Tuesday. What impact do you think these last two lopsided losses are going to have on Howie Roseman’s willingness to acquire a veteran or two to help the team?

Banner: My expectation still is that they’ll add at least one player. I still think they look at the team as put together well. Hurting with some injuries, but with a very, very favorable schedule the rest of the way. The next three or four games are a little tough. But after that it’s an extremely soft schedule.

I think they feel that the goals that they had at the beginning of the season are harder, but still reachable. And I’d be surprised if they didn’t make a move or two.

Domo: The trade deadline used to be a non-event. Trades were baseball’s thing, not the NFL’s. But that has changed dramatically. There already have been a dozen or so deals in the last few weeks, and there figure to be more before the Tuesday 4 p.m. deadline. What’s the reason for the change in philosophy?

Banner: This has been the big transition in the league, and I credit the teams like the Eagles that figured this out early. Because it created a huge advantage for them.

When the cap started going up as much as it did -- and almost every team in the league now has an excess of cap room -- it shifted a dynamic that had been in place for many, many years. Which was that draft picks had a tremendous value, and without hitting on them, you couldn’t be a good team because you needed to balance your veteran costs with some young-player costs to fit everybody in under the cap.

But with the cap increasing so much, you can now build a team in the NFL that is overwhelmingly veterans and compete to win the Super Bowl. The Broncos did it a few years back. The Eagles’ Super Bowl team was overwhelmingly veterans.

If you can get a sure thing, a quality player, especially at an important position, in a trade while teams are only hitting on 50 percent of their first-round draft picks, the only reason not to do that before was because you wouldn’t have cap room. You’d eventually get yourself into cap trouble. But that’s not the case any longer. Some teams still are functioning like they’re in a tight cap league. But many others are being more aggressive with their (cap) dollars sooner.

It’s the absolute right thing to be doing in this era, in this moment in time, to be much more aggressive with your cap dollars and trusting in the future increases in the cap.

Domo: What’s your take on Sunday’s game against the Bills? They’re 5-1, but those five wins are over teams that are a collective 6-27. Still, the way the Eagles have played the last two weeks, I’m not sure they could beat the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Banner: This is a game the Eagles should win based on their talent and coaching. But watching the way they’re playing, it’s hard to feel confident about that.

The Bills are a solid team. They’re not as good as 5-1 says. They’re a team that, over the last 2-3 years, has made a lot of smart moves, building the right foundation and setting up the possibility for sustained success.

But at this moment, they’re just a good team. And they’re not getting great play out of their quarterback, at least in my opinion. If the Eagles lose, it will be a further statement that their problems are much more serious than people like myself thought earlier in the year.

Domo: Bills coach Sean McDermott spent 12 years with the Eagles. Worked his way up from a low-level scouting administrator to defensive coordinator, replacing the legendary Jim Johnson in 2009 at the age of 35. But two seasons later, he was abruptly fired. Take me through the decision to fire Sean back then.

Banner: I remember us feeling that he was going to be a very good coach, but he wasn’t there yet. And we were in a situation and a time where we thought we could win big. And that’s why we made the change.

Now, we may have been completely wrong. He was doing a solid job at the time, and certainly has gone on, both in Carolina and now in Buffalo, to establish himself as clearly one of the better defensive coaches in the league. But at the time, the thinking was we were ready to win now and he needed a little more time to grow into being the lead guy. Certainly, all of the comparisons at the time to Jim put him in a no-win position.