Eric Marmon

Eagles are right — nobody respects this defense, and nobody ever has

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USA Today Images

Eagles are right — nobody respects this defense, and nobody ever has

“Nobody respected us as a defense. Gimme some respect right now...I’ll tell you what. I wanted to set a tone. We wanted to set a tone as a D. It’s not just me, it’s dem Defense, it’s my line, it’s Burgess, it’s Kearse, it’s all them Boys, Trott. We came and we brought it every doggone play.”

Those are the words of Mr. Brian Patrick Dawkins just moments after the last Philadelphia Eagles home NFC Championship Game. For those who are too young to remember, or perhaps have forgotten due to fits of hysteria because Andy Reid didn’t know how to run a two-minute drill a couple weeks later, the Eagles and their fans spent the week leading up to that game listening to a lot of national media telling us just how great some fella named Mike Vick was.

The commonly-held belief was that Vick and the Atlanta offense was going to come into The Linc and run circles around an Iggles defense that, many had forgotten, had been Super Bowl quality the entire 2004 season.

And here we are, nearly a decade and a half later, and history appears ready to repeat itself.

Sure, the characters have changed, but the theme remains the same; this Eagles defense, which has been number one against the run all season long, which is allowing just 13 PPG at home this year, and which just held the reigning MVP Matt Ryan and football’s best wide receiver Julio Jones to a paltry 10 points (all of which were aided by turnovers on the offensive side, mind you).... That defense is being told they are the underdogs (again), that their season will end on Sunday, and that they have not done enough to earn the respect of the national media.

And hey, this didn’t just start this week. Go back to Los Angeles on December 10th, when Wentz went down. All of a sudden, the Eagles were guaranteed to be a one-and-done come the postseason, even as the D clearly lifted the Birds to victory that Sunday against the ‘high-flying’ Rams offense. Sure, the assumption that the Iggles were done had more to do with Nick Foles than anything else, but it also tied back to the reality that as a whole, nobody outside of Philly saw this defense as Super Bowl quality.

Ask Brian Dawkins how he felt when Terrell Owens went down in 2004 and people started counting the Birds for dead.

But hey, for this defense, disrespect comes with the territory. This is a D built with rejects, cast-offs, and the underappreciated. They are led by a defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, who has been told by both the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills that he wasn’t good enough to work for them. Not exactly the most prestigious of franchises to be fired from, like being told you weren’t good enough of an actor to be on “Jersey Shore.”

Then there’s Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Ronald Darby, Tim Jernigan, and Nigel Bradham: all guys spurned by the teams that drafted them, yet all starting and contributing in a major fashion to the success of the best defense in the NFL.

There’s Jalen Mills, the 7th-round pick most people wanted to drive to the airport last season, who inserted himself into Philadelphia Eagles lore by knocking Julio Jones to the ground last Saturday.

There’s Mychal Kendricks, who has spent so much time on the trading block, he’d be better off buying, and who’s snap counts have been less consistent than the President’s twitter feed.

There’s Vinny Curry, who had to fight for playing time for the team he grew up rooting for.

There’s Beau Allen, another 7th-round pick who has already had a tenure longer than Bennie Logan, a guy at the same position drafted four-rounds earlier.

There’s Dannell Ellerbe, an undrafted linebacker turned Super Bowl champion who was out of the league just a few weeks ago, now starting in the middle for the NFC East Champs.

There’s Patrick Robinson; a former first-round bust who the Eagles nearly cut in training camp, and yet reinvented himself as one of the top slot corners in the league and has led this D in interceptions.

There’s Chris Long, the dog-mask-wearer himself, a former second-overall pick who had to be picked off the NFL free agency scrap heap this summer, showing he can still produce at age 32.

Even arguably their best player, Fletcher Cox, had to watch as a nose tackle was valued, and drafted, right before him back in 2012.

And I write ‘arguably’ next to Cox because I, for one, am done underappreciating and devaluing the contributions and play of Brandon Graham. There’s no one in recent Philadelphia sports history that has been more disrespected than he. Drafted by Andy Reid at a spot most experts considered a reach, the guy many Birds fans knew as “Not Earl Thomas” was nearly traded by Chip Kelly. He’s come back from an ACL injury, he’s switched from defensive end to linebacker to defensive end again, and he now leads a team one win away from the Super Bowl in sacks and tackles for a loss. And BTW, he had as many tackles-for-a-loss this season as Aaron Donald, and more than guys like Demarcus Lawrence, Khalil Mack, and Bobby Wagner.

From "overreach" to "first round bust" to “trade bait,” and now arguably the best player on what could potentially be a Super Bowl defense. And yet still not getting the respect he deserves.

Is there anything more Philly than that?

Jay Ajayi is the key to Eagles beating the Falcons

Jay Ajayi is the key to Eagles beating the Falcons

If the Iggles are gonna make it to the NFC Championship game for the first time since the 2008 season, they’re going to have to take the J-Train.

That’s right. Jay Ajayi, a running back ditched by the team that drafted him just a few months ago, holds the keys to the Eagles offensive success this postseason. A lot of fans have been freaking out the past month or so based on the idea that Nick Foles (who has looked objectively atrocious in the past two games) is expected to lead the Eagles through the playoffs. And that’s completely fair; we were all nervous about Foles leading us in the playoffs back in 2013 when he had his infamous 27-2 season. Believing in him now would display a level of faith even Jim Jones would consider extreme.

Which is precisely why head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich should be developing a game-plan that features a heavy dosage of Jay Ajayi.

That’s the easiest way to imagine the Birds winning this game; the play-calling puts the ball in the hands of Ajayi, as well as Legarrette Blount and Corey Clement, and the three of them pound the Falcons defense into submission, eventually opening things up in the air for Foles. Have success on the ground, stay committed to the run, and the Birds will make things easier for their back-up quarterback. That’s the most logical (and lowest-risk) offense game-plan, in its simplest form.

By putting your faith in the running game, you’re not just banking on Ajayi; you’re banking on Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks (Pro-Bowlers), as well as Jason Kelce, the well-rested Steve Wisniewski, and yes, even Halapoulivaati Vaitai (who by the way, becomes much less of a liability when you ask him to run-block as opposed to pass-block). Give your big uglies a chance to hit some dudes, and see where that offense takes you.

Cause it’s hard to imagine Jim Schwartz and company not keeping the Eagles in this game. Julio Jones and Matt Ryan both haven’t practiced yet this week, and the Birds defense… well, the Birds defense has been outstanding all year. They’re 13-3 and the #1 seed in the NFC in part because of this defense, and they’ve only gotten fresher and healthier over the bye. Sure, Ryan was fantastic under pressure against the Rams, but the Birds pass rush is an entirely different beast, and if you’re making a list of things to worry about in advance of Saturday, the defense should be near the bottom, far below “where are we going to park?” and “will Donnie Jones be wearing pants?”

As for Foles; as Kulp pointed out, he’s had notable success against this style of defense. We’ve all seen him throw seven touchdowns in a game before. If he comes out and plays fantastic, it won’t be the biggest shock in Eagles postseason history. Foles, like Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley before him, is capable of winning the Eagles games. 

But the reality is, he probably shouldn’t have to. Against the Giants and the Raiders, he threw the ball 38 times each. That’s typically too much for nearly any quarterback (guys with the name Brees or Brady notwithstanding); for a guy like Foles, it’s bordering on ridiculous. We’ll chalk it up to Pederson wanting to get his back-up more reps, but if the Eagles are in a close game with Atlanta this Saturday, and Foles has thrown the ball more than 25 times, they’re probably in some trouble.

A major key to playoff success? Just ask Brian Westbrook:

This is why Ajayi was brought here; he’s the kind of guy you can have a functioning offense built around, a reality proven by the fact that he was the best offensive player on a playoff-caliber team just last season. He can be the workhorse, and what’s more, his success should open up the field, making everything easier for the worry-inducing Foles. If Ajayi ends the day Saturday as the best player on the field, there’s no doubt the Eagles are going to win this game.

Can Ajayi have success against this Falcons D, a group that just shut-down MVP candidate Todd Gurley?

So the only question remaining is; will coach Doug Pederson give him the opportunity?

Washington enters offseason with more questions than QBs

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USA Today Images

Washington enters offseason with more questions than QBs

very week this season we’ve taken a look at how the Eagles' NFC East rivals have been doing… and for the most part, it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, like listening to a great love song or eating a box of Cheez-Its. Alas, like that box of delicious cheesy crackers, our time enjoying the demise of the Giants, Cowboys, and Washington has come to an end. At least for this season.

Without further ado, here’s a look back at what happened, and what’ll be happening, in the NFC East. Our "savoring the Giants season" here, and Washington below. Come back for Dallas tomorrow.

Washington (7-9)

2017 Headline: “At Least We’re Not The Giants!”

What Happened: If the 2017 Giants were a slapstick comedy movie, 2017 Washington was like watching an overhyped sequel; some exciting bits but for the most part tremendously disappointing.

After nearly beating the Eagles in Week One, Washington actually started the season 3-2, including what was an extremely impressive (at the time) shallacking of the presumably-playoff-bound Oakland Raiders on Sunday Night Football. 

Then came a Monday Night Football game in Philly, where Washington got steamrolled by the Wentz Wagon 34-24. Jay Gruden’s squad would never really recover, dropping three of their next four to a bunch of teams that ended up making the playoffs. There was a stretch from late October till Thanksgiving where Washington could have put themselves squarely in the “IN THE HUNT” playoff graphic every football show likes to use. Instead they feel flat, like “Independence Day: Resurgence” or “Speed 2: Cruise Control.”

A lot went wrong for Washington this season, especially in the injury department, as the team looked like a M*A*S*H marathon where I was the only one laughing. Their most dynamic player, Chris Thompson, went down to injury. Their best offensive weapon last season, Jordan Reed, barely played at all. And their big offseason addition, Terrelle Pryor, never got in sync with QB Kirk Cousins and eventually was put on injured reserve when they couldn’t trade him back to the Browns. By the time the season was mercifully over, Washington had twenty separate guys on injured reserve, including offensive lineman Trent Williams, who essentially played the majority of the season on one leg.

The 2017 season may have been the grand finale in Washington for Cousins, whom Jay Gruden spit at on his way out. Blaming Cousins for the team going 7-9 is like blaming your basement flooding on the fact that its underground and completely ignoring a massive thunderstorm; the first part definitely didn’t help, but it’s not the main culprit. Gruden may regret being so mean to the only starting QB he’s ever coached when his team is forced to pay Sam Bradford $18 million this offseason.

Positive Spin: Well let’s start with the big one: Dan Snyder didn’t get into any trouble. Like, zero trouble. Sure, there was a little smoke suggesting he was the only ally to Jerry Jones when the Cowboys owner went toe-to-toe with Roger Goodell, but haven’t we all? No news is good news when it comes to the owner of the Washington Football Team, so props to Danny Boy for staying out of everything.

And regarding the QB, well… like a peanut butter sandwich or a movie starring Will Patton, there’s really nothing special about Kirk Cousins. And like the sandwich or Tom Hagan’s portrayer, Cousins definitely can flash brilliance, but it’s not something you really want to build around. So his departure can certainly be spun positively by Washington fans in need of a silver lining.

Had Washington made the playoffs again, or had they even put together a winning season, Snyder may have felt compelled to give the YOU LIKE THAT Vine some of that Matthew Stafford money. How well has that worked out for Detroit? The correct answer is: how well has *anything* worked out for Detroit?

Negative Spin: So Cousins isn’t the answer; where does the team go from here? It’s like telling me I can’t have a ChocoTaco for breakfast -- okay, we’ve established what we can’t have, but I’m still hungry and gotta eat.

It’s a similar spot to where the Iggles were when Chip Kelly declared Nick Foles his starting QB for the next 1,000 years; he (and we) knew Foles wasn’t the greatest option, but finding the greatest option at QB isn’t as easy as scarfing down a couple of early-morning ChocoTacos. 

When Cousins first starting stealing playing time from Robert Griffin III, he was an interception machine the likes of which hadn’t been seen before in modern NFL history. The 76ers Big Bella t-shirt gun had less off-target shots than this guy. And yet he developed into an above-average option, and what NFL history tells us is that it’s entirely possible for an above-average QB to win a Super Bowl. Just ask Brad Johnson, or Trent Dilfer, or Eli Manning.

If Washington had signed Cousins to a moderate extension a couple years ago, they could be spending this offseason trying to build up a suspect defense, rather than looking for ways to acquire the likes of Teddy Bridgewater or A.J. McCarron. Kirk wasn’t the final piece of the puzzle, but it’s fair to argue he could have been *a* piece of the puzzle.

Oh, and speaking of “the ones that got away,” this fanbase is going to regret letting Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan walk. Mark that one down.

What’s Next: A search for a quarterback. Remember two years ago when Howie Roseman made a flurry of Houdini-esque trades to move the Birds into position to draft Carson Wentz? That’s what Washington has got to be hopeful for, though most fans of the franchise are still suffering from football PTSD over the draft day trade for RG3. Of course, if they can’t swing something, Washington fans may start getting flashbacks of the 2011 year featuring Rex Grossman and John Beck (both of whom, rest assured, are currently available).