Analysis of how the Philadelphia Eagles have gone from turmoil to now the NFC Championship Game
The Redskins’ win at Philadelphia on Dec. 26, 2015 to clinch the NFC East is easily a top-five Redskins victory of the last 25 years. What a night that was. Kirk Cousins went 31-of-46 for 365 yards, four touchdowns and no turnovers and was sacked just twice, registering a Total QBR of 81.1. Jordan Reed had nine receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns on 11 targets; he had five receptions for 87 yards and two touchdowns on five targets in just the first quarter.
But also notable from this game was it from an Eagles standpoint. This was Chip Kelly’s final game as Eagles head coach, as he was fired on Dec. 29 despite back-to-back 10-6 seasons that began his tenure and a 26-21 record overall. Kelly had won a power struggle with Howie Roseman after the 2014 season and had player-personnel control. But Kelly made a number of moves that backfired, including trading running back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonso in March 2015. Alonso lasted for just that 2015 season with the Eagles, starting one of the 11 games in which he played. McCoy has averaged 102.23 yards from scrimmage per game over the last three seasons with the Bills.
And now here we are a little more than two years later. The Redskins are coming off playoff-less seasons of 8-7-1 and 7-9. The Eagles went from 7-9 last season to 13-3 this season and now are in the NFC Championship Game for the first time since the 2008 season. Oh what a difference two years have made. How did this happen?
Well, we know what’s gone wrong for the Redskins. Their 2016 season was doomed by a terrible defense and an offense that struggled in the red zone and then came up very small down the stretch. Their 2017 season was doomed by an absurd amount of injuries, a brutal schedule over the first 10 games, a bad running game, bad special teams and multiple disturbing no-show performances in losing three of the final five games. Hovering over all of this, of course, has been the bizarre and absurd Kirk Cousins contract situation (#ChaChaCha).
As for the Eagles, their rapid ascension has been the result of a few factors, all of which the Redskins can learn from.
Lesson no. 1: the Eagles threw seemingly every resource possible at their quarterback situation until they got it right
It was less than two years ago that many were mocking the Eagles.
They signed Sam Bradford in March 2016 to a two-year, $36 million deal with $26 million guaranteed.
Later that month the team signed former Redskin Chase Daniel to a three-year, $21 million contract with $12 million guaranteed over the first two years.
Then the following month, the Eagles traded for the 2016 draft’s no. 2 overall pick, which they used on Carson Wentz, who had shined at an FCS school in North Dakota State. The Eagles traded the 2016 no. 8 overall pick, 2016 third- and fourth-round picks, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 second-round pick for that 2016 no. 2 overall pick. Think about that for a moment. The Eagles traded a haul comparable to that which the Redskins dealt to the Rams for the 2012 no.2 overall pick used on Robert Griffin III to take a guy from an FCS school (and, oh yeah, also get back a 2017 mid-round pick).
And yet nobody is bashing the Eagles anymore. Wentz blossomed into a franchise quarterback in this just his second season, leading the NFL in Total QBR at 75.7. The extent to which he owned the Redskins in their two losses to the Eagles in 2017 can not be overstated: 8.98 yards per pass attempt, six touchdowns versus two picks, countless extended plays. Yes, he suffered a season-ending torn left ACL this past December, but he is still by far the biggest reason the Eagles are in the NFC Championship Game.
Nobody cares that the Eagles released Daniel in March 2017, just a year after signing him. The goal was to figure out the most important position in sports. The Eagles have done that, and the cost doesn’t matter. Remember this if/when the Redskins are trying to adequately replace Kirk Cousins.
Lesson no. 2: the since-restored Roseman has been killing it via bold and aggressive player-personnel moves
The loser in that power struggle with Kelly, Roseman was never actually fired and actually was “promoted” to executive vice president of football operations after the 2014 season. Well, he has been running player personnel since the firing of Kelly, and it’s hard to argue with what has happened.
The trading up to draft Wentz looks great.
Roseman ended up dealing Bradford to Minnesota in Sept. 2016 for a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 conditional fourth-round pick. That 2017 first-round pick acquired for Bradford was used on defensive lineman Derek Barnett, who had five sacks, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries (including a 23-yard fumble-recovery return for a touchdown in the Eagles’ 19-10 win over Oakland on Christmas night to clinch the no. 1 seed in the NFC) in playing on just 41.17 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps this season.
Roseman spent a 2016 seventh-round pick on safety Jalen Mills, who was no. 2 on the Eagles in defensive snaps this season at 90.39 percent for what was the no. 5 defense in the NFL per the Football Outsiders DVOA metric.
Roseman has locked up a number of key Eagles in recent years, signing tight end Zach Ertz and right tackle Lane Johnson to contract extensions in January 2016 and defensive end Fletcher Cox to a contract extension in June 2016. A recent article by The Ringer’s Kevin Clark included the following passage: “Howie Roseman is a good example, experts say, of a modern general manager: The Eagles are spending to the cap, but they have as complete a roster as there is in the NFL. “He’s one of these guys with a newer mind-set, more freewheeling,” [former NFL agent and contract and salary-cap expert Joel} Corry said. [Former NFL executive Joe] Banner points out that Roseman is smart enough to use his cap space to sign his current players to deals that work for both sides—maybe they seem like slight overpays now, but they will be a bargain compared to what would happen if they hit the open market and teams with $100 million to spend got to bid. Banner mentioned Fletcher Cox ($63 million guaranteed), Lane Johnson ($35 million guaranteed), and Zach Ertz ($21 million guaranteed) all as contracts that seem plenty substantial but are really team-friendly when compared to what those players are worth.”
Roseman signed Alshon Jeffery to a one-year deal last March and then a four-year contract extension in December. This is an aggressive front-office mind who gets out in front of situations and projects future performance. What’s funny is that the Redskins have actually done with this quite a few players, as Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Williams, Jordan Reed, Morgan Moses and Chris Thompson all have been signed to contract extensions within the last three years. I loved every one of those signings, even though the Reed one doesn’t look spectacular after his 2017 season. But, of course, the one player the Redskins should have been aggressive with the most – Kirk – they were not.
Lesson no. 3: the Eagles hired a progressive head coach in Doug Pederson
I was an admirer of Chip Kelly, mainly because of his progressive and innovative scheme and methods off the field. But I have to say that Pederson is a forward-thinker. He was Kansas City’s offensive coordinator from 2013-2015. He had the no. 5 passing offense per DVOA this season due not just to Wentz’s greatness but also due to scheme. The Eagles varied attack under Pederson includes read-option, run-pass option and, of course, plenty of “normal” pro concepts. Pederson’s usage of slot/fade routes drew praise this season.
And then there was Pederson’s aggression on fourth downs. Analytics have been screaming for years that coaches should be far more aggressive on fourth downs. Well, guess which team had the second-most fourth-down attempts in the NFL? Yes, Pederson’s Eagles at 26. They went 17-for-26 on those fourth-down attempts, good for the third-best fourth-down efficiency in the NFL (65.4; the Redskins, by the way, were sixth at 56.3 (9-for-16)).
What happened in the 15-10 win over Atlanta on Saturday night during NFL Divisional-Round Weekend? Pederson went for it on a fourth-and-goal at the Falcons’ 1 with the Eagles trailing 3-0 in the second quarter. The result was a LeGarrette Blount one-yard touchdown run. And actually Pederson could have been even more aggressive, as the Eagles had multiple go-for-it opportunities on fourth downs in the second half, including the Jake Elliott 21-yard field goal that came on a fourth-quarter fourth-and-one at the Falcons’ 3 with the Eagles leading 12-10.
Lesson no. 4: the Eagles’ “turnaround” – if you wanna call it that – happened quickly
I would argue that things weren’t so bad under Kelly (again, back-to-back 10-6 seasons and a 26-21 record), but ownership felt like a change was needed, and that change now has paid off in just two seasons. There is no such thing anymore as a “five-year rebuilding plan.” The notion that it takes five years in the NFL to go from bad to good is something that people who want job security say. The truth is that if you do player-personnel well and coach well, you can get really good in a hurry. The NFL season is a small sample size – a 16-game sprint – and thus doesn’t always reveal which teams truly are good and which aren’t.
And therein lies the hope for us as Redskins fans. Whether you think that things are terrible right now or just not very good right now, we can all agree that things should be a lot better. And they can get better quickly. You just have to have the right people in charge doing the right things. Ask the Eagles.