Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A during the season with longtime Inquirer NFL/Eagles writer Paul Domowitch. Here is this week’s conversation:
Domo: In your mind, what flipped Sunday’s game from a potential loss to an impressive come-from-behind win?
Banner: This game was a perfect illustration of why the Eagles, for a long time now, have been so consumed with trying to dominate the lines of scrimmage, and why they’ve made it a priority in terms of their drafts and expenditures of cap dollars.
The Redskins came out and were playing very well defensively. Then their best defensive lineman, Jonathan Allen, went down with an injury late in the first quarter and they had no depth, and suddenly they had no players to rotate. The Eagles started running the ball right through where Allen would’ve been playing and picking up chunks of yards. And without Allen in there to disrupt things, the Redskins couldn’t get any pressure on Carson Wentz.
On the flip side, the Eagles’ defensive line got off to a slow start. I thought Fletcher Cox in particular didn’t play well early in the game. But as the game went on, they were able to take control and get pressure on Case Keenum and they came back and won.
When fans wonder why the Eagles built their team the way they did, with such a high priority on the offensive and defensive lines, Sunday’s game shows you why. As control of the line of scrimmage shifted in the game, the entire game shifted with it.
Domo: The Eagles will play the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday. The Falcons are coming off a lopsided 28-12 Week 1 loss to the Vikings. Will the Eagles be 2-0 when it’s over?
Banner: I think the Falcons have a pretty talented team. But they don’t have a good offensive line, especially after losing their first-round pick, right guard Chris Lindstrom, last week.
The Falcons are going to play much better than they did last week. They have more talent and are better coached than they look, and they’ll be at home.
But in the end, I don’t see any way that the Falcons offensive line will keep the Eagles defensive line from having a huge impact on the game.
When a team has a defensive line that’s able to control the line of scrimmage and pressure the quarterback, they’re going to win a high percentage of the time. And I think we’re going to see the Eagles’ defensive line be in control this week.
Domo: Even without Malik Jackson?
Banner: I’m not minimizing his loss. I felt he was a terrific offseason signing. That’s a big loss. It tests your depth. It tests your quality. But even without him, I look at that [defensive] front and I look at the Falcons’ [offensive] front, and the Eagles still have a huge advantage there.
Domo: Carson Wentz didn’t play a down in the preseason, then went out Sunday and posted the fifth-highest passer rating of his career. Several other teams that had players who didn’t play in the preseason had terrific games. Is it safe to say the preseason is absolutely meaningless?
Banner: The notion that there was a cause and effect between teams that didn’t play players in the preseason and teams that played poorly in the first week just doesn’t exist.
The preseason is extremely important in getting ready to play. But the specifics of playing a quarter or half in a couple of extra preseason games is meaningless. All it does is increase the risk of injury.
If I were a coach or running a team, I would be perfectly comfortable doing what the Eagles and other teams did this year with very limited, and in some cases, non-existent actual play in the preseason. That doesn’t mean they’re not working their butts off for five weeks in camp. But to play a quarter here or a half there in a preseason game is totally unnecessary.
Domo: What did you think of the Wentz-to-DeSean-Jackson connection?
Banner: It’s really scary. I’ve been a huge Wentz guy since before they drafted him. Part of the criticism I’ve heard from people that have been critical of him was his accuracy with his deep ball.
What DeSean did Sunday is going to affect how people play defense against the Eagles the entire season. But the accuracy of those two long balls was incredible.
When you signed DeSean, this is exactly what you hoped would happen. And people won’t forget it. It was too visible. It’s on tape. You know his history. This will help them for the rest of the season. He doesn’t have to go out and catch a couple of more 50-yarders this week. It will be on the minds of the opposing defensive backs on every play.
Domo: So, Antonio Brown now is a Patriot after getting released by the Raiders. Where do you stand with respect to the conspiracy theory that Bill Belichick orchestrated this whole thing?
Banner: I think the notion that the Patriots orchestrated the whole thing is ridiculous. But I think that maybe in the last 48 to 72 hours before the Raiders cut him loose, it’s totally plausible to me that a couple of teams called Drew [Rosenhaus, Brown’s agent], or Drew called a couple of teams, and knew that, if in fact his client got released, they had an insurance policy, and probably more than one insurance policy.
That may have precipitated the video Brown put out asking to be released. Maybe he wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t know he had a place to land. So I’m a 48-hour conspirator.
Domo: Drew kind of did a similar thing 15 years ago with Terrell Owens, when the 49ers traded him to Baltimore, where he didn’t want to play, and you ended up getting him.
Banner: The strategy was a little different. But the notion that you have a star receiver who was traded as opposed to choosing his own team, and then finds a way to get off the team he didn’t want to go to and finds a way to get free enough so that he could choose the team he went to, those parts are exactly the same.
Domo: How much better are the Patriots with Antonio Brown as opposed to without him?
Banner: When you’re already at A-plus, I don’t know how much better you can get. But certainly another dynamic player and another insurance policy if they have any injuries is nice to have. It will be a good test to see if he can conform.
Domo: Lastly, let’s talk about the Jacksonville Jaguars. With Nick Foles out for a good chunk of the season with a broken collarbone, their new starting quarterback is a sixth-round rookie, Gardner Minshew II. This week, they traded a fifth-round pick for another quarterback, Josh Dobbs, who was the No. 3 guy for the Steelers, behind Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph. You’ve been critical of the job Tom Coughlin is doing as the Jaguars’ top football guy. Explain.
Banner: When you’re not great and your goal is to be great and you’re starting to mortgage or use future assets — draft picks or cap dollars — to get better in a season in which you’re probably going to win six, seven, or if you’re lucky, maybe eight games, to me that’s just a bad strategy.
I just look at that team and, even with Nick, I thought they had a chance to be a solid team, a good team. Maybe compete, if they got a few breaks, for the division. But with a backup, that’s not going to happen.
Giving up assets right now just so you can feel a little bit better about this year doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. They’ve done this a few times now. They traded a couple of picks last year for players that didn’t end up helping them, like [running back] Carlos Hyde. Now they’re doing it again for a backup quarterback who probably isn’t going to play, and even if he does, they’re not going very far this year. That’s just a bad strategy.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Tom Coughlin as a person and as a coach. But as a GM, there just isn’t evidence that he has the mindset and the skills to do the job very well. We’ve seen the same thing with John Elway. He was a phenomenal player. But is there evidence that he’s a really good general manager?
Just because somebody does one thing in football really great, that doesn’t mean they can just automatically flip over and do something else in football that’s really, really great. I don’t think Tom has made a lot of good decisions there. I mean, just start with picking [running back Leonard] Fournette with the fourth pick in the 2017 draft when you have [Patrick] Mahomes and [Deshaun] Watson on the board and you haven’t had a good quarterback in a while down there.
As owners hire, they need to be aware that just because somebody’s got a big name or iconic history doesn’t mean they can do something that isn’t what they developed their reputation on. And I think this is a good example of that.