NFL

Philadelphia Eagles: New era begins, but plenty of issues to solve

By Sports Desk March 22, 2021

After going from first to worst in the NFC East, the Philadelphia Eagles decided to make wholesale changes. 

Doug Pederson departed, the head coach who steered the franchise to a first Super Bowl success just three years earlier deemed to no longer be the right man at the helm.   

"After taking some time to reflect on these conversations, I believe it is in both of our best interests to part ways," Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie said in announcing Pederson's departure. 

The Carson Wentz era is over too, the former second overall pick getting a fresh start to his NFL career in Indianapolis. Nick Sirianni has moved in the opposite direction, leaving his post as offensive coordinator at the Colts to take charge in Philadelphia. 

A 4-11-1 record led to the departures, particularly as they lost seven out of eight after their bye week. That solitary success during the run came with Jalen Hurts starting at quarterback, seemingly offering a window into the future.  

Sirianni's appointment gives an indication as to where exactly the Eagles want to improve, as shown when looking into the team's numbers during what was a difficult 2020 season.

Offense 

Perhaps surprisingly for a team named the Eagles, there was an issue airing the ball out. Their average of 6.23 yards per pass attempt ranked dead last in the league, while they were also bottom of the pile in terms of completion percentage (55.9).  

Only the Broncos had more interceptions than Philadelphia's total of 20. Wentz was responsible for 15 in just 12 games, while a disposition to hang onto the ball led to him being on the wrong end of 50 quarterback sacks.  

Hurts was sacked 13 times, too, suggesting pass protection was a problem in general. 

Injuries did not help in that regard, admittedly, as they were without guard Brandon Brooks and tackle Andre Dillard for the entire season. They also had issues at receiver, Greg Ward finishing top for receptions with 53, hardly surprising considering he was the solitary wideout to appear in all 16 games.  

Despite the offensive line becoming a case of shuffling the pack on a weekly basis based both on form and fitness, they were still able to run the ball effectively, averaging 5.03 yards per attempt and 126.7 yards per game. 

Still, new offensive coordinator Shane Steichen will know the importance of re-establishing a consistent passing game.

Defense 

Creating pressure was not a problem for the Eagles, who finished behind only the Steelers and Rams with an impressive total of 49 sacks. 

Brandon Graham led the way with eight, while Fletcher Cox was again a factor in helping disrupt opponents on passing plays. 

And yet Philadelphia still allowed teams to complete at a rate of 68.7 per cent when throwing the ball, working out at 7.8 yards per attempt. If the pass rush failed to get home, the secondary was too often exposed. 

They also struggled when it came to stopping teams moving the ball on the ground, giving up an average of 125.8 yards per outing. 

Their cause was not helped by allowing 13 running plays of 20+ yards, as well as 20 rushing touchdowns. 

There were problems in the secondary, too. The Eagles managed only eight interceptions, making them one of just four franchises to fail to reach double digits. That low number led to a +/- takeaway deficit of -10.

Offseason

General manager Howie Roseman has holes to fill on both sides of the ball, yet not a lot of money available to find solutions. 

The Eagles' salary cap situation is not aided by having just over $40million in dead money weighing them down. It is not the table you want to top, though was deemed a necessary situation to move on from Wentz.  

Hurts tops the depth chart at quarterback for now; he will be helped by having the chance to get to grips with a new offense while getting the vast majority of reps, though that also means there is less wiggle room in terms of the level of his performances in year two.  

Philadelphia will also be hoping Jalen Reagor – selected with the 21st pick in the previous draft – can make a leap, particularly with Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson gone after barely making an impact in 2020.  

There are building blocks elsewhere on the roster, plus it can only be hoped the injury issues that weakened the offensive line do not strike again.  

Darius Slay is the number one cornerback, but there is a distinct lack of depth beneath a player who found the going tough at times in his first season in Philadelphia. 

With limited resources to spend in free agency, Roseman will have to lean heavily on the draft. The Eagles have 11 picks in total, albeit five of those are in the final two rounds. They will pick sixth overall, which opens up a number of opportunities, including trading back to gain more selections should the right offer come their way. 

An ageing roster appears to need a major overhaul, rather than attempting to paper over the cracks.

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  • Florence and the talent machine: Vlahovic and the players who left Fiorentina in big moves Florence and the talent machine: Vlahovic and the players who left Fiorentina in big moves

    Every league seems to have those teams that just produce talent on an apparently non-stop basis, before those players inevitably get picked off by the bigger boys.

    In Germany, you can't move for former Schalke or Stuttgart players. There's Lyon and Monaco in France, Athletic Bilbao and Valencia in Spain, Southampton and Aston Villa in England.

    In Italy, that team is probably Fiorentina, who are in the same position once again after La Viola sold star striker Dusan Vlahovic to Juventus in a €70million deal.

    Stats Perform takes a look at some of the biggest names in Italian football who made a name for themselves with the team from Tuscany, and what they went on to achieve in the game.

    Roberto Baggio

    Having begun his career at Vicenza, The Divine Ponytail's move to Fiorentina saw his star rise as he spent five impressive years in the purple shirt.

    However, after he helped Fiorentina to the 1990 UEFA Cup final, only to be defeated over two ill-tempered legs by their great rivals Juventus, salt was very much rubbed into the fans' wounds as the Bianconeri paid a then world-record fee to take Baggio.

    Reports claimed that fans hurled bricks, chains and Molotov cocktails at Fiorentina's headquarters, and for the two days after the transfer was announced, club president Flavio Pontello took shelter in the stadium, with 50 injuries and nine arrests recorded.

    Baggio would only improve his reputation further at Juve, winning the UEFA Cup in 1993, before securing a league and cup double two years later, scoring 115 goals in 200 games across five seasons before moving to Milan, where he won another Scudetto in his first year.

    After being dismissed by Fabio Capello at San Siro in 1997, Baggio had an impressive season at Bologna where he scored a personal best 22 league goals, before moving back to the city of Milan with Inter.

    Things did not work out at the Nerazzurri but he still went on to enjoy four final seasons in Serie A with Brescia, where he reached double figures in each campaign before retiring in 2004.

    Gabriel Batistuta

    There is arguably no more iconic player in Fiorentina history. A striker who football fans of a certain vintage remember banging in goals on Sunday afternoons during the nineties.

    Unlike most of the players on this list, Batistuta actually spent the majority of his career at Fiorentina, staying for nine years before his big-money move to Roma.

    The man affectionately known as 'Batigol' remains the club's record goalscorer with 159 goals in 198 games, though it does help his record that people like Vlahovic are usually sold before they can get anywhere near that total.

    Though he had won a Coppa Italia, Batistuta wanted a Scudetto and moved to Roma in 2000 in order to get it. It was the highest fee ever paid for a player over the age of 30, a record which stood until Leonardo Bonucci moved to Milan from Juventus in 2017.

    It seemed like a justified move when Batistuta scored 20 goals, including netting against his former club, on the way to winning the title in his first season in the Italian capital, but was unable to reach those heights again, scoring just 11 over the following season and a half before a loan move to Inter.

    Rui Costa

    The Portuguese maestro had made a name for himself at Benfica before moving to Italy in 1994 and making 230 appearances in seven years with La Viola, winning two Coppa Italia titles.

    However, like Batistuta, Rui Costa was moved on for big money to try and help the club's finances, ending up at Milan for a then club-record fee of around £35m.

    Rui Costa spent five years at San Siro where he won six trophies, including the Champions League in 2003 and Scudetto a year later. He moved back to Benfica in 2006 after the emergence of Kaka saw his minutes reduced.

    Federico Bernardeschi

    Bernardeschi came through the youth ranks at Fiorentina, with big things expected of him as he burst onto the scene after an impressive loan at Crotone in Serie B in the 2013-14 season.

    During three years in the first team, Bernardeschi scored 23 goals in 93 games and registered 11 assists, which unfortunately for Viola fans saw old enemies Juve come swooping in again.

    He has claimed three Serie A titles and two Coppa Italia trophies in Turin, as well as being a part of the Italy squad that won the rescheduled Euro 2020 last year.

    Bernardeschi, who has scored just 11 times in 170 games for Juve, largely remains a squad player under Massimiliano Allegri, in part because of this next man...

    Federico Chiesa

    Another Fiorentina youth product, Chiesa had all eyes on him as soon as he broke through due to being the son of former Viola and Italy striker Enrico Chiesa.

    Chiesa Jr made his first-team debut, somewhat ironically, against Juve at the age of 18, and over the next couple of years began to establish himself as the potential future of the club.

    More suited to playing out wide than his father, who was a traditional central striker, Chiesa's managed 34 goals and 19 assists in 153 games at Fiorentina but it his tenacity, pace and skill that sets him apart.

    That was enough to tempt – yes, you guessed it – Juve to come along and take him on a two-year loan, with an obligation to make it permanent at the end of the current campaign.

    Chiesa had an impressive first season at Juve, including scoring the winning goal in the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta, before starring for Italy in their successful Euro 2020 campaign, scoring twice in seven appearances and making the team of the tournament.

    He started 2021-22 in sharp form, only for a serious knee injury to end his season early.

    There also must be honourable mentions for the likes of Luca Toni, whose emergence at Fiorentina earned him a lucrative move to Bayern Munich, and Francesco Toldo - he was sold to Inter at the same time that Costa was packed off to Milan to ease club debts.

    Juan Cuadrado (now at Juventus) and Marcos Alonso were both sold to Chelsea for decent money two years apart, while Felipe Melo (Juventus), Stevan Jovetic (Manchester City) and Matias Vecino (Inter) continued Fiorentina's philosophy of buying low and selling high.

    The path well-trodden out of the Stadio Artemio Franchi has often led to bigger and better things, and that bodes well for Vlahovic now that it appears he will be the next in line.

    He seems to have all the tools to be the star striker this current, rather dour, edition of the Bianconeri require. Indeed, Vlahovic's 33 goals in Serie A last season matched the record set by Cristiano Ronaldo at Juve in 2020.

    It might be tough to take (again) for Viola fans, but if history is anything to go by, their next hero won't be far away.

    Of course, he'll probably also sign for Juve eventually, but that will just be a case of crossing the Ponte Vecchio when they come to it.

  • BREAKING NEWS: Juventus seal €70m Vlahovic deal BREAKING NEWS: Juventus seal €70m Vlahovic deal

    Juventus have completed the signing of highly rated Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina for a fee of €70million.

    The striker, who turned 22 on Friday, agreed to a four-and-a-half-year deal with the Bianconeri and passed a medical.

    Juve will pay the €70m fee over three financial years, plus additional costs of €11.6m. A further €10m will be due to Fiorentina should Vlahovic meet certain sporting objectives.

    Vlahovic is the joint-top scorer in Serie A this season with 17 goals from 21 appearances – a tally only matched by Lazio's Ciro Immobile.

    He has been linked with a host of top clubs across Europe after his impressive form over the past two seasons.

    Vlahovic joins Massimiliano Allegri's Juve team, who have often struggled to turn possession into goals this season, having scored just 34 times across 23 Serie A games.

    That means their attack is the 11th-best in the league, way behind leading scorers Inter (53), while Fiorentina have scored 41 times so far with Vlahovic on board.

    Serbia international Vlahovic, who joined La Viola from Partizan in 2018, has converted 28 big chances since the start of last season, more than any other player in Serie A.

     

    His tally of 21 goals during 2020-21 was the highest recorded by a Fiorentina player in a single campaign since Alberto Gilardino in 2008-09 (25).

    Vlahovic also netted 33 league goals in 2021; matching Cristiano Ronaldo’s record for the most scored in the Italian top-flight during a calendar year. 

    Last week, Fiorentina chief executive Joe Barone confirmed the club were open to selling Vlahovic, who subsequently missed Sunday's draw with Cagliari due to a positive COVID-19 test.

    Vlahovic's arrival in Turin may pave the way for Alvaro Morata to leave Juve, with Barcelona reportedly keen on signing the Spain international, who is on loan from Atletico Madrid.

  • AFCON matchday preview: Aboubakar chases history as Tunisia seek semi-finals at last AFCON matchday preview: Aboubakar chases history as Tunisia seek semi-finals at last

    The Africa Cup of Nations has reached the quarter-final stage and Saturday's matches promise the chance of history.

    Host nation Cameroon will meet Gambia in the competition for the first time, their second successive game against tournament debutants, something they last experienced way back in 1972.

    Tunisia meet Burkina Faso in the later match looking to end a fairly rotten recent record at this stage of the AFCON, although history favours their opponents.

    Two of Egypt, Morocco, Senegal and Equatorial Guinea will lie in wait for winners...

     

    Gambia v Cameroon (16:00 GMT)

    Cameroon have enjoyed facing AFCON debutants of late: including their 2-1 win over Comoros in the last round, they have won three consecutive matches against such opposition, which is more than they managed in their first six such games.

    Gambia, who surprised Guinea in the last 16, are bidding to become the first team to reach the semi-finals in their first Africa Cup of Nations since eventual winners South Africa did so back in 1996.

    Unbeaten in their past eight matches in all competitions, Cameroon have progressed from two of their most recent three AFCON quarter-finals, having gone through on penalties against Senegal most recently in 2017. Defeat to Gambia, the smallest nation on the African mainland and one who had never before reached a major tournament, would go down as one of the competition's greatest upsets.

    Yet for Musa Barrow, whose goal sent them into the last eight, there is little pressure.

    "Everyone is happy back home," he told AFP. "It is a small nation. We love football. People learn football from the street so coming to this AFCON, reaching this stage is a big improvement, and it is going to take the Gambian name to higher heights.

    "We have nothing to lose, but they are the host nation. If they lose it is going to be a big disaster for them."

    One to watch: Vincent Aboubakar (Cameroon)

    Gambia will need little incentive to keep an eye on Cameroon's captain and most dangerous striker, but Aboubakar is chasing not just a place in the semi-finals here.

    Not only has he scored in each of his past six games in the competition, but he could also become the first player in AFCON history to net in a team's first five matches at a single edition of the tournament.

     

    Burkina Faso v Tunisia (19:00 GMT)

    Tunisia might be favourites - they are ranked 30 places higher in the world than Burkina Faso - but, in the previous two meetings at the AFCON in 1998 and 2017, it was the Stallions who progressed at the quarter-final stage.

    In fact, Burkina Faso have gone through from each of their three last-eight matches in this competition, a record only Mali can better (they have won each of their five previous quarter-finals).

    No team has made it to this stage more often since its introduction in 1992 than Tunisia, who are 11-time quarter-finalists now, but this has not been a happy round for Mondher Kebaier's side: they have been eliminated from five of their past six such matches.

    Still, after knocking out Nigeria in the last 16 despite COVID-19 cases badly depleting their squad, perhaps this will be their year.

    One to watch: Youssef Msakni (Tunisia)

    Msakni's winner against Nigeria saw him become the first Tunisia player to score in five different editions of the AFCON. There are only four players to score in six: Cameroon great Samuel Eto'o, Zambia's Kalusha Bwalya, and Ghana forwards Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew.

     

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