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, they discuss Sunday’s Eagles-Cowboys game, the potential of Miles Sanders, Carson Wentz’s playing style, whether Doug Pederson should have more say in personnel decisions, whether Jerry Jones would hire a college coach if he fires Jason Garrett, Ron Rivera’s future, and other topics.
Domo: You’ve been steadfast in your belief that the Eagles would win the NFC East. Will they beat the Cowboys on Sunday?
Banner: Coming back and winning the last two games was nice, but they’re not going to be able to beat the Cowboys playing at that same level. Assuming both teams play well, the decisions about how to play early in this game and how to get the lead are going to be crucial. People tend to forget that over 80% of NFL games are won by the team that leads at halftime. The percentage is even higher if you’re the home team. So the Eagles’ getting off to a strong start and scoring early is going to be crucial.
Domo: The defense continues to be a major concern. No sacks and no interceptions Sunday against Washington. Just six takeaways in their last seven games.
Banner: And they were playing against a Redskins offense that was missing its best offensive lineman (left tackle Trent Williams) and isn’t very strong to begin with. And yet, their defensive line was unable to take over the line of scrimmage. They won the game by outscoring the Redskins, not by really stopping them.
This week, they are going to struggle to control the line of scrimmage. Which means the secondary is going to have to play a lot better, or they’ll be in a lot of trouble. They have the ability to do it, but haven’t the last three weeks against weak opponents.
Domo: Let’s talk about somebody who is playing well: Miles Sanders. Can he be the Eagles’ next Westbrook/McCoy?
Banner: Ironically, I think the injuries at running back (to Jordan Howard and Darren Sproles) helped them. It got Sanders on the field more and gave him a chance to improve and show what he can do. And running backs have more success as rookies than almost any other position.
He’s different than both Brian and Shady, but can he have that kind of impact and be as valuable to the team as they were? Absolutely. He started slow, but then you started to see the things that made the Eagles so excited when they drafted him. I think they are in really good shape at that position going forward.
Domo: Wentz has engineered two straight fourth-quarter comebacks. Completed his last 15 passes against Washington. Has he turned the corner?
Banner: He’s risen to the occasion, which is what a person in that position and with that level of potential has to do. Obviously, he’s playing under challenging circumstances with a line that isn’t as good as it was a couple of years ago, and all of the injuries to his wide receivers.
But he’s played really well. That touchdown to Sanders last week was Aaron Rodgers-like. To get out there like that and still find the open guy and drill a pass at that velocity with virtually no room to throw, you don’t see many plays better than that.
Domo: The TD pass to Sanders that you alluded to came on a scramble drill after Wentz escaped the pocket and extended the play. It was something he did with regularity two years ago before he got hurt. This year, not so much.
Banner: You can’t watch the film from two years ago and now and not feel that the style of his play has just changed. It’s understandable that he has to be smarter about when to take the risk of taking the big hit and when not to take that risk. But if he’s not playing kind of fearlessly, it impacts both his play and how defenses can set up and stop him.
Domo: Doug Pederson hasn’t expressed much interest in having a say in personnel decisions. But I’m thinking that might change after this season in light of some of the mistakes made by Howie and the personnel people. What are your feelings on Doug’s having more input into personnel? I mean, you had a coach in Andy Reid who pretty much had total control of football operations and that seemed to work out well.
Banner: I don’t think there’s a rule of thumb. I think there’s an answer that applies to each situation. Having worked with both Howie and Doug, I think that they need to reflect personnel decisions that really fit how the coach intends to use the players, and involve the coaches in that manner and include them in watching the tape and seeing whether the players that the personnel department is interested in are capable of executing what they want to try to do.
Beyond that, I actually have confidence in their personnel people as a group. And I think you need kind of a clear-cut way to make final decisions. So, short version is the collaborative process is always helpful in making sure you’re not just getting the coaches good players, but players that fit what they do. But I also believe you need to have one clear-cut person who is making the calls and is responsible for the outcomes. As they’re currently constituted, I still think Howie is the best person to do that.
Domo: While we’re on the topic of personnel power, do you think Cowboys owner Jerry Jones ever will give up his GM title and let somebody else make the personnel decisions?
Banner: Not in the future that is seeable from where we are today. This is the reason he owns the team. He probably, with a pretty good basis, is saying to himself, “People are criticizing me. But I’ve put a team on the field that most people evaluating feel is extremely talented and could compete for a Super Bowl.” So while you and I have met many people in the league that aren’t very good at what they do, he’s probably feeling like he doesn’t deserve that kind of scrutiny.
Domo: There have been reports that Jerry will make a play for University of Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley if he fires Jason Garrett. Could you see that happening?
Banner: The only reason I would say it’s possible is because that’s what Jerry did when he had his greatest run of success, when he brought in Jimmy (Johnson). Some of us — in fact, many of us — in stressful situations kind of return to our basic periods where we’ve had our greatest success.
But I think Jerry’s changed a lot since then. I think he wants to have coaches who he feels think of him and respect him as a football person. And it’s hard for me to picture Lincoln Riley being comfortable in that kind of a situation.
The college coaches are classic CEOs who are able to run and control every aspect of everything. By definition, that’s not really a good fit with Jerry. Who knows? But I’d be surprised if he picked a college coach. If he does do it, it’s because he’s trying to get back to the roots of his success when he entered the league.
Domo: Ron Rivera is a guy you know very well. from the five years he spent as Andy’s linebackers coach. Do you think he’ll get another head-coaching job?
Banner: I think Ron will get hired either this year or next year, and I think he deserves to. I think he did a really good job in Carolina and is a great guy. Ron, early on with the Panthers, had a really, really good coaching staff under him. But as we’ve often seen in this league, as coaches try to replace good people on their staff that leave for better jobs, it’s a real challenge (to replace them). If you don’t maintain the caliber of coach — a Sean McDermott, for example — the team is going to suffer.