Eagles 2017: How to Give up Your Best WR and Best RB and Yet Improve

David Malinsky

Thursday, August 17, 2017 2:06 PM UTC

Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 2:06 PM UTC

The Eagles offense has legit weapons; now it's up to Wentz/Pederson to use them…A Take on Blake as Bucs/Jags meet in front of the ESPN cameras… Is the 2-0/3.37 for Adam Wainwright since the All Star break the most misleading pitching sub-set of the season

Point Blank – August 17, 2017

The NFL returns to the board this evening with the second weekend of pre-season play, these games meaning a bit more than last week’s glorified auditions, and also the opportunity to put Philadelphia under the microscope. As our team-by-team tour across the NFL continues there is some genuine intrigue – the Eagles will be better offensively without both their top pass catcher and their top rusher from 2016, and in the process of eliminating Jordan Matthews and Ryan Mathews from their plans it enabled the defense to get better as well.

First the base details, WR Matthews traded to Buffalo for CB Ronald Darby, who immediately moves into the starting lineup at arguably the team’s weakest position, and by cutting Mathews the Eagles not only freed up $4 million in cap space, but also a roster spot to re-sign CB Mitchell White, who they had just waived over the weekend.

Now the handicapping issues. Carson Wentz had a roller-coaster ride in his rookie season, some of that merely a natural course of events, but also because HC Doug Pederson was a rookie as well, and the surrounding cast of players in the offensive skill positions were below league average. That grading includes the 73 receptions for 804 yards from Matthews, and the 661 rushing yards, at 4.3 per attempt with eight TDs, from Mathews.

There was a lot of conservatism in the offense to work around that and protect Wentz, and a helluva lot of dink-and-dunk. When the ball was thrown down the field the results were ugly, Wentz going 4-32 on passes that carried more than 25 yards in the air, with six of those attempts being intercepted.

Now the limitations come off for both Wentz and Pederson, because of the cast of characters now in that offensive huddle, and it is in opening things up to utilize the available skills that we have the prime Philadelphia talking point. I will make it both general, and specific, because of a potentially unexpected upside.


Carson Wentz has some weapons now (and might this be a rebirth for Nelson Agholor)

It was not a difficult decision to deal Matthews because the Eagles added talented veterans Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, and drafted Mack Hollins. Mathews was expendable because of the additions of LeGarrette Blount and Donnel Pumphrey (don’t neglect how much help the latter gets in terms of development from being able to learn the tricks of the trade from Darren Sproles).

There is also a wild card in this equation – Nelson Agholor. Agholor could easily be labeled a bust, two seasons removed from being taken in the first round of the 2015 draft. But as part of replacing Matthews they have moved the former USC star into the slot, and there have been glowing reports from his play in that particular role.

Let’s start with Pederson after OTAs – “I’ll tell you, he’s been explosive in there. He’s made some big plays for us in there this spring. And his confidence level is high right now. I’m excited to see him grow in that position, and it’s been valuable for him.” And from training camp - “It’s something that he’s really embraced going all the way back to the spring, when Jordan (Matthews) missed some time. He’s also one of our better blocking receivers, so that position requires that receiver to block a little bit. He’s a physical guy. He’s learning that role. ... I’m encouraged by where he’s at.”

Then Wentz - “I feel like he’s in a good place. I don’t want to say I see a new guy, but I do see a more confident guy. He’s just out there playing and having fun and competing; doing what he loves.”

And finally from Agholor himself, and how the changing role might generate a spark in his career arc “That’s been my No. 1 thing; I want to be a guy you can count on for all four downs. I don’t want to be a one-trick pony. I’m continuing to work on all aspects of my game.”

Now consider the upside. Smith can stretch a field. Jeffery is a physical guy that can work the intermediate areas and also be effective in the red zone. TE Zach Ertz had already developed a rapport with Wentz as 2016 evolved, catching 40 passes over the last five games. Sproles is one of the most dangerous RBs on screen passes in the NFL. Now add Agholor bringing something unique in the slot – while that is often considered a “role” position, Agholor is the fastest player on the team, and can offer up some serious mismatches against nickel corners (many of those slotted for that position are there more for their physical ability to close and make tackles on short passes, rather than running with explosive WRs).

You can see the potential that is in play. Now it comes down to whether Wentz can be legit as an NFL QB (I think he can), and Pederson as a HC (I think he is better suited towards being an OC somewhere). My early scrutiny on this offense will focus on how willing they are to use those pieces – this is not a dink-and-dunk roster anymore, and how early the QB and HC show the necessary confidence to use all of the tools will be a key factor in developing their power rating(s).

As you work on your Blake Bortles power rating this evening

I believe there was some good early value to #405 Tampa Bay vs. Jacksonville, +1.5 having been available at the start of the week before disappearing, the driving force behind that the prospect of James Winston and the Tampa Bay offensive starters possibly playing the entire first half (Dirk Koetter has said that openly, but as always there are no guarantees behind the words of the coaches).

This will be an opportunity to watch Blake Bortles in what may be his make-or-break season, and something that I have written about in PB in the past was compiled rather brilliantly from the diligent folks at 538. Without taking the time to break down the specific numbers it seemed that a lot of the positive Bortles numbers throughout his career came when games were out of hand, and when those numbers were properly sorted, that was indeed the case.

It isn’t only that Bortles has been the best QB in the league at producing garbage time numbers, but that he has also been the worst in the early stages of games when they were still competitive. Take a read through and you will also learn some things about Andrew Luck that will come as a surprise, but perhaps shouldn’t (still two weeks before we get to the Colts).

There are also some numbers from a current MLB starter that will surprise many of you, though according to the Thursday marketplace not all…


Is the 2-0/3.37 for Adam Wainwright since the All Star break the most misleading pitching sub-set of the season

I wanted to get in play on Pittsburgh and against St. Louis today, believing that Jameson Taillon is under-rated; Pirate closer Felipe Rivero being fresh; St. Louis starter Wainwright vastly over-rated; and questions about Cardinal closer Trevor Rosenthal, who looks like a trip to the DL waiting to happen.

Then the markets got in play, the Pittsburgh opener of -115 jumping to -135 already, which spins it past the value meter (-125 or less is a fit). But let’s still address the recent Wainwright cycle, so that there is an awareness not just of his current issues, but also how badly short-term statistics can sometimes get off kilter.

Wainwright is remarkably sitting at 12-5 in personal decisions this season, and the Cardinals are 14-8 in his 22 starts, despite a 4.87 ERA, and there are no flukes behind that – in working with Teddy and Pauly on putting today’s SportsBIT together (it will be up in just a bit), the list of career-worsts in 2017 for the veteran right-hander was staggering  - ERA, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, WHIP, BB%, HR/FB% and SWS%.

Yet there could be the appearance of a turning of form since the All Star break, a 2-0/3.38 in which the Cardinals have gone 3-1 over Wainwright’s four starts. Now take that and compare it to the reality –

Wainwright Post-Break

Hits   18

BB   10

Strikeouts   7

Wainwright has faced 91 batters, with a hideous ratio of four base-runners for every strikeout, and a K% of 7.6. The league average for K% is 21.6. The most recent trending is even worse – over the last 52 batters faced there has been one strikeout, that coming vs. Cincinnati pitcher Homer Bailey.

One of the old-school things that I do is lay out the baseball page from the Las Vegas Review Journal across my desk each morning, an easy way to see all of the previous day’s box scores. And in that Thursday’s Pitching Form section there is the customary “Last 3 Starts”, which shows Wainwright 1-0/3.45 over 15.2 IP. Often those numbers will misrepresent reality; this time around it may be one of the most egregious I have ever seen.



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