Safety should be high priority for Eagles
One of the last things that should be on the Eagles' shopping list this offseason is safeties. But there it is, right near the tippy-top, right there after finding a new head coach.
Yeah, even with Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans coming back, they need another offensive lineman, unless you believe that the light bulb finally will go on for Danny Watkins next season or that Dennis Kelly can be a 16-game starter.
Yeah, that defensive line that looked so damn deep in training camp could use another difference-maker or two.
Yeah, cornerback is a concern, particularly if they let Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie take a free-agent powder. And, yeah, they really need to do better than Jamar Chaney at strongside linebacker.
But safety is the most glaring positional need heading into the offseason, even though it shouldn't be. The Eagles spent second-round draft picks in both 2010 and 2011 on safeties, taking Nate Allen with the 37th overall pick in '10 and Temple's Jaiquawn Jarrett with the 54th overall pick in '11.
The plan was for Jarrett and Allen to be their safeties for the next 10 years. But the plan was bad. Jarrett turned out to be a bust and was released in September, only 17 months after the Eagles drafted him.
Allen was benched this week because he hasn't been playing very well for a while now. The two starting safeties against the Redskins Sunday will be Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson.
Both are undersized, overachieving mutts. Coleman was a seventh-rounder. Anderson was an undrafted free agent who was signed off the Vikings' practice squad. Both should be core special-teamers. Neither belongs in an NFL starting lineup. But that's where the Eagles are right now.
After drafting Jarrett, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and coach Andy Reid talked glowingly about his hitting and tackling ability. Made him sound like the second coming of Ronnie Lott.
"Jaiquawn did a lot of good things in college," said Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, another former Temple safety, who wasn't with the team when it drafted Jarrett. "You saw some big hits. You saw everything you thought you wanted to see.
"He probably was a little short on the athletic side. You take a chance on those guys, thinking you can nurture them and mature them. Some pan out, some don't. There's a bunch of guys like Jaiquawn that make it and there's a bunch that don't."
Unfortunately for the Eagles, they seem to keep picking the ones who don't. Allen isn't quite the bust Jarrett was. Has better coverage skills. But hasn't tackled well, hasn't made many plays and has been involved in far too many blown coverages the last two seasons.
The Eagles likely will have a top-five pick in the April draft, no top-five safeties are coming out. No top-10 ones, either. The best of the bunch is 6-0, 210-pound Kenny Vaccaro, of Texas, a do-it-all type with the size to hit and the speed to cover. He figures to be a midround pick. At this point, Vaccaro looks like the only first-round-worthy safety in the draft, which means it's probably back to playing guessing games with one in the second and third rounds.
"In college, offenses are so spread out that everybody's playing with corners and nobody's playing with safeties," Bowles said. "So when they come into the league, there's kind of a shortage of tacklers and that type of thing.
"You want a guy that's going to make plays. You're looking for an instinctive guy. More than height, weight, speed, you want somebody with instincts and intelligence that can tackle."
Said Eagles secondary coach Mike Zordich, who spent 12 years as an NFL safety: "The whole game has gotten a little faster in the last 12 to 15 years. But not counting the speed, I think you still have to be able to have a [safety] that knows the defense in and out and is able to be the quarterback of the defense back there and make all the calls and make all of the adjustments. Work with the MIKE linebacker and get everybody lined up. That to me is what you need most, besides the obvious physical part of playing the position."
Zordich echoed Bowles' sentiment that it's tough to evaluate safeties coming out of college because of all the spread offenses in the college game.
"They play the game different in college," he said. "You just don't find that kind of safety anymore. They're more of a corner than a pure safety. You want a hybrid, but within that hybrid, you want a guy that's physical as well as mental. And then be able to cover guys and be able to cover space and be able to tackle in the open field. It's a position that requires a whole lot."
McNabb on being traded
Since trading Donovan McNabb to the Redskins on Easter Sunday 2010, the Eagles are 22-25 and have made the playoffs only once in the last 3 years. McNabb clearly disagreed with the team's decision to get rid of him after 11 seasons, but he said he has taken no satisfaction in their struggles.
"All of us that have played here, we bleed green," McNabb said Thursday on "Daily News Live" on Comcast SportsNet.
"If I decide to retire here or not or whatever, we had years of a lot of success, a lot of fun. Friendships that were built. I was happy about what we were able to do."
McNabb, 36, who spent this season doing TV work for NFL Network and CSn, thinks the Eagles would have been much more successful the last three years if they had kept him.
"I had no control over the way things went after I was trade," he said. "Do I look back and say, 'Hey, things would've been different if I had been here?' Of course. When you build around a player, it gives the player an opportunity to flourish and showcase his talent and see how far he can go. And we went very far.
"It was unfortunate the year I got traded. We lost in the playoffs, lost to the Dallas Cowboys. We were 11-4 going into the last game of the season. That's a great season in the NFC East. But we lost, then lost a week later in the playoffs [to the Cowboys again] and things happen. I was the one to get traded. They decided to go with their young guys that they felt was going to grow them."
Does he have any hard feelings about being traded? Is the pope Catholic?
"I was pissed," he said. "I explained that to them. I felt like there was no reason for me to be traded. I thought it was more financial than just kind of moving on. I can understand if a player's not playing well. You kind of want to transition to the younger guys. But we were playing well.
"There was no full explanation of why. I knew it had to do with me having 1 year left on my deal. Peyton Manning had 1 year left. Tom [Brady] had 1 year left. We were all slotted in the financial aspect of what we were going to receive. Hey, things didn't work out and I move on."
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will get my vote for both NFL comeback player of the year and the Associated Press' league MVP. His remarkable return from a torn ACL trumps Peyton Manning's multiple neck surgeries for the comeback award. Quarterbacks usually win the MVP award because, well, you're not supposed to be able to win in this league without a good quarterback. Only two of the last 12 MVP winners have been running backs - LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 and Shaun Alexander in 2005.
Manning is fourth in the league in passing, third in touchdown passes and third in completion percentage. But the 11-3 Broncos have a defense that is fourth in yards allowed, fifth in points allowed and third in sacks per pass play. The Patriots' Tom Brady is fifth in passing, first in third-down passing, second in passing yards and tied for first in touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio. But he has a 100-catch slot receiver and two outstanding pass-catching tight ends and a defense that leads the AFC in takeaways.
Peterson? He's managed to run away with the league rushing title and challenge Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record and keep the Vikings in the playoff hunt not only with a surgically repaired left knee, but a one-dimensional offense that has Christian Ponder at quarterback. Ponder is 25th in the league in passing, 34th in yards per attempt and 36th in touchdown passes. And, yes, there only are 32 teams in the league. Almost every time Peterson touches the ball, the opposing defense has eight - and sometimes nine - men in the box. Unlike other running backs, he seldom gets the opportunity to run against two-linebacker nickel packages. And yet, he has managed to carry a team that lost 13 games last season to an 8-6 record. Without Peterson, the Vikings would be staring down the barrel of a second straight 3-13 season.
The Eagles have an interesting decision to make on Michael Vick. Not whether to keep him or not. I think that decision already has been made. The decision is when to get rid of him. They have a 3-day window after the Super Bowl when they can release the 32-year-old quarterback and not have to pay him the remaining $3 million in guaranteed money on his contract. But they may prefer to hang on to him until March when the league's trading period opens and see whether they can get a draft pick for him.
Figuring the Eagles
Remember the glory days of the Sean McDermott defense? The Eagles' pass defense the last 2 years under Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles hasn't been nearly as good as it was under McDermott before he was shown the door after two seasons (2009-10). An opponent passing comparison of the two defensive regimes:
McDermott (32 games): 663-for-1,116 (59.4 percent), 7,539 yards (6.7 yards per attempt), 58 touchdowns, 50 interceptions, 78.4 passer rating
Castillo-Bowles (30 games): 563-for-957 (58.8 percent), 6,961 yards (7.3 yards per attempt), 53 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, 90.3 passer rating
With two games left, the Eagles have only seven interceptions, which is tied for the fewest in the league with the Chiefs, Steelers and Cowboys. The franchise record for fewest interceptions in a season is eight in 1983. Twice they've had nine - in '98 and '76 (14 games).
The Eagles' 12 total takeaways are the second fewest in the league behind the Colts' 10. The franchise record for fewest takeaways in a season since they began keeping track of fumbles back in 1941 is 17 in '98.
The Eagles are 20th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (122.0), and 11th in yards allowed per carry (4.1). A breakdown of the run defense by quarter and down:
1Q: 87-343 (3.9)
2Q: 87-464 (5.3)
3Q: 105-475 (4.5)
4Q: 135-426 (3.2)
1D: 228-993 (4.4)
2D: 138-517 (3.7)
3D: 45-194 (4.3)
4D: 5-4 (0.8)
Opposing tight ends have averaged 10.9 yards per catch and running backs 6.9 this season. Last year, tight ends averaged 11.6 yards per catch against the Eagles and running backs 9.6. Tight ends and running backs have caught five touchdown passes against the Eagles. Last year, they caught nine.
FROM THE LIP
"You get beat like that, there's nothing you can take away from this game that you can walk away and say you're proud of. Yeah, it's good to rush for a thousand [yards], but when you get your brains beat in like that, there's nothing to be happy about." - Bills RB C.J. Spiller on crossing the 1,000-yard rushing plateau in last week's 50-17 loss to Seattle
"We aren't into taking guys out of the game. All that stuff, that's not what we do. Anybody can debate that all they want. Look around the league. See what other coaches do. That's not what they do, either." - Ravens coach John Harbaugh when asked why he didn't pull QB Joe Flacco late in the fourth quarter of last week's 34-17 loss to the Broncos
"We have no homefield advantage. We travel, too. I just think it's a joke. And it's a bad atmosphere for football. I mean, nobody wants to play there. I guess for opposing teams, it beats the hell out of going in somebody else's stadium and dealing with a bunch of crowd noise. I don't think it's turned out the way we wanted, and I hope we don't renew it. That sucked." - Bills C Eric Wood on the team playing one home game a year in Toronto.
"People think Dwayne Bowe is one of those diva wide receivers, a loud-mouthed guy, and all that. But that's not what he is at all. If you go around this locker room and talk to everyone, not one guy would say they have a problem with Dwayne Bowe and the manner he goes about his business." - Chiefs QB Matt Cassell on WR Dwayne Bowe
BY THE NUMBERS
The Cowboys' Tony Romo, who threw 13 interceptions in his first 283 pass attempts this season, has thrown only three in his last 275 attempts, including one in his last 135.
The Patriots' 34 points in last week's loss to the 49ers was the most points scored against the Niners since Dec. 16, 2010, when the Chargers also put up 34 points against them.
Patriots QB Tom Brady is the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 30 or more touchdowns in three consecutive seasons. Brett Favre and Drew Brees have done it five straight times. Dan Marino did it three straight times.
Adrian Peterson has rushed for 1,313 yards in the last eight games. That's the most ever over an eight-game span in a single season. Peterson notched the fourth 200-yard rushing performance of his career last week against the Rams. He is one of only seven players in league history to do that.
The Seahawks are the first team since the 1950 New York Giants to score 50 points in back-to-back games in the same season. They beat the Bills last week, 50-17, and the Cardinals the week before, 58-0.
That's sayin' thumbthing
THUMBS UP: To Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz and Titans running back Chris Johnson for honoring the victims of the Newtown, Conn., massacre. Cruz was the favorite player of Jack Pinto, one of the 20 children slain in the attack. The wideout wrote "RIP Jack Pinto" and "Jack Pinto my hero" on his cleats and gloves, and visited with Jack's family. Johnson wrote the names of all of the Newtown victims on his cleats for the Titans' Monday night game against the Jets and contacted the family of one of the victims, Grace McDonnell, and offered his condolences. Said Cruz: "There are no words that can describe the type of feeling that you get when a kid idolizes you so much that they want to put him in the casket with your jersey on. I can't explain it."
THUMBS DOWN: To the Cowboys for inexplicably allowing nose tackle Josh Brent on the sideline for last week's game against the Steelers. Brent is facing intoxication manslaughter charges after crashing the car he was driving and killing his teammate and best friend, Jerry Brown. Brent's alcohol level at the time of the crash was .18. Brown's mother, Stacey Jackson, has said she forgives Brent, but that's beside the point. It was inappropriate for him to be on the sideline, particularly during the pregame tribute to Brown.
1. Broncos 11-3 (2) last week
2. Texans 12-2 (3)
3. 49ers 10-3-1 (4)
4. Falcons 12-2 (5)
5. Patriots 10-4 (1)
6. Packers 10-4 (6)
7. Seahawks 9-5 (10)
8. Ravens 9-5 (7)
9. Colts 9-5 (8)
10. Redskins 8-6 (14)
11. Cowboys 8-6 (15)
12. Bengals 8-6 (12)
13. Giants 8-6 (9)
14. Bears 8-6 (13)
15. Steelers 7-7 (11)
16. Vikings 8-6 (17)
17. Rams 6-7-1 (16)
18. Saints 6-8 (23)
19. Dolphins 6-8 (24)
20. Panthers 5-9 (25)
21. Bills 5-9 (29)
22. Titans 5-9 (27)
23. Jets 6-8 (22)
24. Cardinals 5-9 (28)
25. Browns 5-9 (20)
26. Bucs 6-8 (18)
27. Chargers 5-9 (19)
28. Lions 4-10 (26)
29. Raiders 4-10 (32)
30. Eagles 4-10 (29)
31. Chiefs 2-12 (30)
32. Jaguars 2-12 (31)