1. The Philadelphia Eagles were extremely aggressive in acquiring talent this offseason and it has yet to pay off. Anointed Coach of the Year Chip Kelly was put in charge of personnel decisions and broke up one of the league's best offensive lines in favor of bringing in two talented running backs and the #2 cornerback on the market. The team currently sits at 0-2 and they look terrible.
The $10.7 million per year cornerback Byron Maxwell has allowed a perfect passer rating when targeted over the first two games, as the former Seahawk has performed pretty much as expected when removed from the Legion of Boom. He's producing at a lower level than Eagles fans favorite toasted cornerback Bradley Fletcher did in 2014. Fletcher is now the Patriots #4 cornerback and is receiving $1.5 million for the 2015 season, with an additional $1 million in playing time incentives that are looking less and less likely to be obtained.
There were some questions when the Patriots tried the splatter technique at cornerback during free agency, as New England signed Fletcher alongside Robert McClain and Tarell Brown to help replace the departed Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. McClain didn't make the team and cost the Patriots $150,000 in a signing bonus. Brown signed a $1.5 million contract with an additional $500,000 in playing time incentives.
In total, the Patriots basically spent $3.15 million, with up to $1.5 million in incentives (although it's near impossible for both Fletcher and Brown to reach their playing time incentives) to shuffle around three veteran cornerbacks in hopes that one would pan out. The Eagles threw $10.7 million at a career #2 cornerback in a historically great secondary and hoped that he would be dominant with lesser talent.
Cap management is important and Bill Belichick's mastery of the subject is what separates the Patriots from the Eagles. Bargain hunting is so important, and contingency plans and easy-outs for when players don't work are just as vital to a team's success.
2. And looking at the Eagles running backs, they signed both former Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray and former Chargers running back Ryan Mathews, considered two of the top running backs on the free agency market, for a combined $11.7 million per season. The Eagles also moved on from their two veteran starting guards in Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans. Murray has 11 yards on 21 carries for a startling 0.5 yards per carry (YPC), while Mathews has 4 yards on 4 carries, which sadly doubles Murray's rate at 1.0 YPC. Murray's start is the worst in NFL history.
The Patriots have also turned over their two veteran guards in Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell in favor of two 4th round rookies, Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson, and young veteran Josh Kline. The Patriots also don't have the benefit of one of the best centers in the league in the Eagles Jason Kelce, but instead have undrafted free agent rookie David Andrews.
Running back Dion Lewis has 109 yards on 21 carries, for a healthy 5.0 YPC. Lewis is not receiving $11.7 million for his services his year. He's not even receiving $1.17 million. He's receiving 5% of what the Eagles running back tandem is earning, with just $585,000 this year. The Patriots signed Lewis to a futures contract this past February after stints with the Browns and Colts. Knowing when to buy is just as important as knowing when to sell.
3. Lewis needs 125 yards from scrimmage against the Jaguars to move into 5th in franchise history for most yards from scrimmage over the Patriots first three games. Lewis needs 136 to move into 4th ahead of 1994 Ben Coates, and 146 to move into 3rd ahead of 2007 Randy Moss. Lewis would need 203 yards from scrimmage to pass 1997 Curtis Martin for 2nd, and 220 yards from scrimmage to pass 2011 Wes Welker.
4. The Cowboys did the smart thing by letting Murray walk, although Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden have been far less successful than Murray behind the vaunted Dallas offensive line. The season is going to get harder for the Patriots Week 5 opponents as quarterback Tony Romo has been placed on the short-term injured reserve and will return for the Cowboys Week 11 game against the Dolphins (sorry not sorry Miami).
In response to the injury, the Cowboys have acquired former Patriots quarterback and 11-year veteran Matt Cassel from the Bills to serve as 4th year quarterback Brandon Weeden's back-up for the interim. Cassel is one year older than Weeden.
This just shows that a team can make all the right moves from a personnel perspective (other than, ya know, trust Weeden to be more than Curtis Painter), but injuries can still derail an entire season. Viva la Jimmy Garoppolo.
5. Last week we said that teams should start working on their two-point conversions because they make more sense over the course of a season. It looks like the Steelers have listened as they ramp up their "for two" offense for the rest of the season. Offenses will continue to win over defenses in this league and additional focus on the two-point play will only increase the scoring conversion rate. The Patriots should go for two with their unstoppable four tight end set every single time.
6. If there's one place where the NFL doesn't favor parity, it's with the selection of teams for Hard Knocks. 2015 Hard Knocks head coach Bill O'Brien said that he "would not recommend" Hard Knocks after the Texans slogged their way through the offseason. If no teams volunteer for the show, then the league can force teams to participate so long as they don't meet the following criteria:
1) Teams with new head coaches are exempt.
2) Teams that have been on the show in the past ten years are exempt.
3) Teams that have made the playoffs in the past two years are exempt.
The final point is extremely curious because it means that the teams that are annually successful won't ever have to be on the show. I guess the idea is to make sure that there's some drama and an underdog quality to the participants, but I feel like the show is missing out on a lot of potential. I guess the Patriots will just have to keep winning in order to benefit from fantastic behind the scenes footage from the coaching staff.