We'd like to thank Bleeding Green Nation Editor JasonB for taking a few minutes to answer a few questions about the Eagles, the game and Philly fans in general. -nc
BTSC: I think Ben Roethlisberger is still having night terrors over the defensive pressure he saw in Philadelphia's 15-6 win over Pittsburgh in 2008. In watching the Eagles' front seven in 2012, I see at least as much activity and athleticism. Talk a little bit about the differences you see between those teams, and how much impact you feel they'll have in Week 5.
JB: It's a very different group. For one, in 2008 the Eagles brought pressure from Jim Johnson's exotic blitz schemes. You never knew where the pressure was coming from on a given play. This 2012 Eagles team is basically the opposite.
They don't blitz very often and the pressure comes almost solely from the front four. They regularly rotate 4-5 different pass rushers from the end position that can all get to the quarterback. Now part of this is that they've invested a ton of money and high draft picks in the end position, but its also due to Jim Washburn's wide nine alignment that have the DEs set up much wider than usual, so they basically have a straight line to the QB. But his philosophy goes beyond just alignment. He charts every dropback a QB makes and basically constructs a heat map of what points he most typically rests on. That's where he sends his defensive ends. They don't chase the QB in this system, instead they go for a certain spot because empirically they can assume that's where the QB will be. The reason that's so effective is that its not something a QB can change. You can change your blocking schemes and what not, but you can't change the fundamental habits of your QB, nor would you even want to.
I think the biggest difference between the preseason matchup between these teams and now is the pressure coming from the middle. Cullen Jenkins has always been a capable rusher from the middle, but the emergence of rookie Fletcher Cox in that area over the past few weeks has been noticeable. It's telling that he was double teamed more than any other DT in the game against the Giants.
BTSC: The Eagles are loaded with talent at the offensive skill positions. My opinion, play at quarterback has been holding them back, and they're still 3-1 (only the fourth team in the last three decades to be 3-1 with a negative points differential). Do you feel the 3-1 record is more of an anomaly for how they've played, or is the lack of scoring (16 points per game) the stat that doesn't fit into the equation?
JB: I think one thing to note about the lack of scoring has been the quality of defenses the Eagles have played this season. They started off the year against a decent Cleveland defense that still had Joe Haden. Then they got the Ravens, the surprisingly fantastic Cardinals D and last week the Giants. That's three top 13 defenses including Arizona who is top 3.
Beyond that though, the Eagles move the ball too well to not start scoring more. In terms of yardage per game, the Eagles are a top 5 offense. What has stopped them has clearly been the mistakes. We've seen 3 fumbles from RBs, including 2 from McCoy who had something like 1 lost fumble in seasons. So that can be seen as a bit of a fluke. Obviously Michael Vick has had his turnover problems, but that's trended positive for the Eagles in recent weeks as well. He hasn't thrown a pick in 2 weeks and the team was turnover free last week.
BTSC: How will Philadelphia's secondary plan to defend Pittsburgh's receiving group schematically? It's a difficult group to cover in man, but the pressure the Eagles' defensive line is likely to get has to be a factor in that decision, doesn't it?
JB: The Eagles play a press man coverage scheme and that's not going to change. They invested in a lot of resources in getting two pro bowl corners who are big and an excel in a press man coverage scheme and that's what you're going to see Sunday. They will jam the Steelers WR on most plays in an attempt to disrupt the timing of the offense and then let the defensive line do the rest.
BTSC: You represent a fan base of a team with a quarterback who polarizes public opinion, to put it mildly. Steelers fans know the feeling well. There aren't two quarterbacks in the league with more sullied reputations off the field than Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger. It seems to me they're also the two quarterbacks drawing the least amount of flags (no flag or fine on this hit on Ben Roethlisberger in Week 3). Do you think Vick's criminal past has any influence on the lack of calls he draws?
JB: Oh not at all. I don't think off the field issues affect refs on the field calls. I think it has everything to do with playing style. Guys who are a threat to run or even guys that are a threat to extend plays simply aren't as protected as statue type QBs like Manning and Brady are. It's been empirically proven. Refs will tell you that its because when a QB becomes a runner, he doesn't deserve the same kind of protection, but you and I know that Ben & Vick takes hits as a QB that don't draw flags for them and do for other QBs.
It's almost like the more you get hit, the less likely refs are to flag a defense for it.
BTSC: I lived outside Philadelphia for a brief stint a few years ago, and came to love Philadelphia fans. I listened to WIP pretty much all day, and not one of those days went by without someone calling in to rip Philadelphia fans for whatever reason - usually people who don't claim direct roots in the city. One host (I forget which one) cut the caller off, and in classic Philadelphia style, bluntly said, "If you aren't from here, you don't get it." I wasn't there long, but I think I got it. It's in the way the entire office in which I worked was empty at lunch time because the Phillies had a playoff game that afternoon. It's in the story I heard of the mouthy Cowboys fan getting duct-taped to a TV news van's broadcasting antennae, and the people telling me the story weren't laughing about doing it - that's what happens to visiting fans if they get out of line. In your words, explain to us Philadelphia fans, and what those not from there don't "get."
JB: Oh jeez, you want me to explain the Philadelphia fan base? There have been books written about this very subject! Can I do in a paragraph?!
Well I think in the broadest sense we're a bit manic depressive. Our highs are really high and ours lows tend to be really low. Just go read any given game thread. We can swing from elation to frothing anger in the span of minutes.
In the end, I just think we care. A lot. Plus, we've got expectations. Cubs fans really care about the Cubs, but they don't hold them to expectations. We care and therefore expect that care to be rewarded. When it's not, we get pissed. We want to see the same effort and passion from our teams that we expend as fans. And that's a high standard. We don't accept losing, but we don't give up either. If the Eagles were 1-14 going into the last game of the season, you can be sure we'd boo them, but the stadium would be sold out with people looking to boo.
As a player, would rather play there than a place that just doesn't show up if you stink?
Look at probably the most famous "incident" in Philly sports history, the booing of Santa Claus. Everyone likes to mention it, but never the context. For one, it was at the end of the season when the Eagles had lost 11 straight to start the year. Then, rather than just continue losing, they actually won a pair of games that did nothing but knock them out of contention for the #1 pick, which everyone knew would be O.J. Simpson.
So at halftime, the team realizes the Santa they hired didn't show up. So they pull this guy out of the stands that had come dressed up as Santa and sent him out for halftime. The guy was a short, skinny kid who had on a dirty red corduroy suit and a scraggly fake beard that was way too big for his head. Plus, according to most reports, he was drunk at the time. So people booed him. After a miserable season where the team did not deliver them anything they wanted (even when what they wanted was to see the team lose for the #1 pick), they didn't even get a decent Santa Claus!
Were we really that wrong to boo that day? Anyway, that's Philadelphia fans.