Eagles

10 most surprising Eagles from NFC East-leading 5-1 start

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10 most surprising Eagles from NFC East-leading 5-1 start

We all pretty much knew Malcolm Jenkins would have another big year. We all pretty much knew Carson Wentz would improve dramatically, Zach Ertz would have a career season and Brandon Graham would have success getting after the quarterback.
 
Then there are the surprises. On this team, there've been a ton of them.
 
The Eagles, at 5-1, are already just two wins short of last year's total and have more wins than the rest of the NFC East combined.
 
Let's take a look at the 10 biggest surprises so far this year on this first-place Eagles team. (And don't look for Nelson Agholor on this list. His performance may be surprising to some people but not to me!)
 
1. Patrick Robinson
Honestly, Robinson's career looked like it was over this summer. He was with his fourth team in four years, and he was so bad early in training camp and the Eagles had so many promising young corners you had to wonder if there was even a roster spot for Robinson. But not only did he make the team and earn a starting spot when Ronald Darby got hurt, he's played at such a consistently high level you can make a case he's been the Eagles' Defensive MVP so far. He's got a team-high nine knockdowns, two interceptions and he's just been consistently solid in coverage.
 
2. LeGarrette Blount
Maybe it's not a huge surprise Blount has been so productive because he did score 18 touchdowns for the Patriots last year. But the surprise is his 5.6 yards-per-carry average — second-best in the league and tops in the NFC among regular backs (at least eight carries per game). Blount averaged just 3.9 yards per carry last year and hasn't been over 4.5 since 2013. And he's 30 now. That 5.6 figure is fourth-highest in NFL history by a running back in his 30s after six games. With Darren Sproles out, Donnel Pumphrey struggling throughout camp and now on the shelf and Wendell Smallwood out the last couple games as well, the Eagles have really needed Blount, and he's responded in a huge way. He's giving the Eagles way more than anybody expected.
 
3. Rasul Douglas
Injuries forced the Eagles to use Douglas in Week 2 after he was inactive on opening day, and he's been starting ever since. Douglas has given up some plays — what rookie cornerback hasn't? — but despite less than world-class speed he's shown an ability to cover, tackle and support the run. Douglas needs to be more consistent, but he's got two interceptions in five games — the first Eagles corner with two INTs in his first five career games since Eric Allen — and he's only going to get better.
 
4. Jake Elliott
What a story. The Bengals draft Elliott in the fifth round, risk losing him by placing him on the practice squad, then Caleb Sturgis gets hurt, the Eagles sign Elliott, and he proceeds to make three kicks of 50 yards or more in his first five games — including a game-winning 61-yarder, the third-longest walk-off field goal in NFL history. Despite not playing on opening day, Elliott is fourth in the NFL in scoring, with 49 points. He's 12 for 14 overall, including 10 straight makes. He's already one of the most accomplished long-range kickers in Eagles history. And he's played five games. 
 
5. Mychal Kendricks
Kendricks' once-promising career seemed to fizzle out the last couple years. Check out his playing time his first five NFL seasons: 88.5 percent in 2012 (under Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles), then 82.6 percent, 65.5 percent and 51.6 percent in 2013 through 2015 (under Bill Davis) and down to 26.7 percent last year under Jim Schwartz. A downward spiral. But Kendricks forced the Eagles to play him with a fantastic preseason, and he's backed that up with some really solid play so far this year. Kendricks had his best game in years Thursday night in Charlotte, North Carolina, with 15 total tackles, a tackle for loss and two special teams tackles. He played 55 snaps — his most in two years — and is now at 52 percent for the season. It's been a long time since we've seen Kendricks play at this level, and it's safe to say few people saw it coming.
 
6. Tim Jernigan
Hard to believe after watching these first six games that the Ravens didn't want Jernigan back. From what he's shown so far, he's a big-time player. Why would the Ravens give up on a 24-year-old defensive lineman with this much potential? Apparently, they felt he wasn't consistent enough. But if he's able to continue delivering the type of play that he has so far, it was a steal for the Eagles. Jernigan already has six tackles for loss, 1½ sacks and four hurries, not to mention stout play against the run all year. He's been way better than advertised.
 
7. Chris Long
Any notion the Eagles just brought Long in for leadership and emergency depth was quickly dispelled when we started to see him play. Long has a lot left. He's averaging 28 snaps, is tied for second on the team with 2.0 sacks and played a season-high 41 snaps in a big way Thursday night down in Charlotte. Long, now 32 years old, can still play.
 
8. Mack Hollins
When training camp began, Hollis was probably behind Jordan Matthews, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Paul Turner, Shelton Gibson and maybe even Bryce Treggs. So he was eighth-team. Now the rookie fifth-round pick is working his way up the Eagles' wide receiving hierarchy. He hasn't played a lot — about 10 snaps per game — but he's got five catches on five targets for five first downs, including a big 20-yarder Thursday night against the Panthers. Keep an eye on Hollins. He's going to be a good one.
 
9. Jason Kelce
Kelce's performance hasn't been a surprise to everybody, but there was certainly a large contingent of people who felt the veteran center should be released this offseason or preseason after his level of play dropped last year. But Kelce has been terrific in the middle of the NFL's No. 4-ranked offense and No. 5-ranked running game. So far a resurgent year for the two-time Pro Bowler.
 
10. Corey Clement
Down three running backs — Darren Sproles, Donnel Pumphrey and Wendell Smallwood — the Eagles have asked a lot of Clement, and the undrafted rookie has made some nice contributions, including a 15-yard touchdown run against the Giants, a 22-yard catch and run against the Cards and a 35-yard kickoff return against the Giants. It's rare to get much of anything from rookie tailbacks, but Clement has done a nice job taking advantage of his opportunities.

NFL fines Carson Wentz for low hit on DeMarcus Lawrence

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NFL fines Carson Wentz for low hit on DeMarcus Lawrence

Carson Wentz helped the Eagles pick up another big win last Sunday, but his wallet is a little lighter after it. 

Wentz was fined $9,115 for a low hit on Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence in the fourth quarter Sunday. 

The low block came after Zach Ertz fumbled the ball before he crossed the goal line on a two-point conversion attempt. The Cowboys recovered the ball and started to return it the other way. Wentz was trying to tackle Justin Durant, who was returning the ball, but Lawrence got in his way and the Eagles' quarterback went low. 

The Eagles went for two-point conversions after all four of their second-half touchdowns because kicker Jake Elliott was concussed. This was the only one they didn't convert. 

Eagles' run defense faces toughest test yet vs. Bears' attack

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Eagles' run defense faces toughest test yet vs. Bears' attack

The Eagles may boast the No. 1 run defense in the NFL these days, but that ranking will be put to the test Sunday by the Chicago Bears (see matchups to watch).

“If we can’t stop the run, it’s going to be a long day,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said this week. “Let’s not get that mistaken.”

Few teams are as committed to the ground attack as the Bears, and even fewer are more productive. Since rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky became the starter in Week 5, Chicago ranks seventh in the league in rushing attempts. For the entire 2017 season, the offense is fifth with 131.8 rushing yards per game.

The Eagles are limiting opponents to nearly half that total at 71.0 yards per game. They’ve also faced only a smattering of backfields as talented as Chicago’s, if any. Plus, many offenses have abandoned the run — a strategy the Bears aren’t likely to attempt regardless of the score.

“We know they’re going to run the football,” Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “They even run the football a lot of times on third-and-long. It’s something they’re going to do.

“There’s a reason why they’re fifth in the league in rushing.”

Given the nature of their passing attack, the Bears’ best shot at pulling off an upset at Lincoln Financial Field is to keep the Eagles' offense on the sideline.

“Even if it’s not getting you a whole lot," Jenkins said, "if you can slowly move the chains and control the game, I think that’s something that they’ll continue to do.”

Trubisky, selected with the second-overall pick in the draft, has begun making strides in recent weeks. He completed 60.0 percent of his passes and avoided throwing an interception in each of the last two games, both one-possession losses. In fact, the Bears haven’t lost any of Trubisky’s six starts by more than eight points, and are 2-4 since he’s taken over.

Trubisky wasn’t asked to throw the ball much in those two victories, either — a combined total of 23 pass attempts. Instead, Chicago was able to lean on running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.

“It’s kind of like a thunder and lightning situation," Bradham said, "kind of what we had here at the beginning of the season with (LeGarrette Blount) and (Darren Sproles).”

Howard is the workhorse back and is often overlooked as one of the NFL’s bright, young stars due to the quality of his team. The 23-year-old was the runner-up to the rushing champion as a rookie in 2016 with 1,313 yards. Ten games into his second season, he’s up to 841 yards with a 4.4 average and five touchdowns.

A fourth-round pick from FCS school North Carolina AT&T in 2017, Cohen has immediately emerged as one of the league’s scariest change-of-pace/receiving backs. The 5-foot-6, 181-pound ball carrier has 537 total yards from scrimmage and leads the team with 33 receptions.

The duo is featured prominently in just about everything the Bears do on offense.

“They put both backs on the field at the same time a little bit, too,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “Sometimes it's two-back sets, sometimes it's one.

“Traditionally there's a fullback back there in two-back sets, but not so much with the Bears. They can put two guys back there. It spreads you a little bit thin. You have to be very assignment-sound. It'll test us in the run game.”

Cohen, in particular, has caused defenses some problems because, much like Sproles for the Eagles, he can line up all over the formation. Some teams have even opted to roll coverages to his area of the field, though that might be as much about Chicago’s dearth of receivers as it is respect for the 22-year-old.

Whatever the case, Jenkins doesn’t expect the Eagles to roll coverages, adding that’s not something they’ve done all season. Regardless, with three run or pass plays of 35 yards or more this season, Cohen is a home run threat — although the Eagles aren't giving up many home runs (see story).

“He’s definitely a matchup issue, and they put him all over the place,” Jenkins said. “He’s at receiver, he’s in the backfield, he’s in the slot. Everybody is going to have to hold up. Whether he’s on a linebacker or a safety or a corner, we’ve seen him make plays at every position.

“He’s running post routes on corners and making the play. Then they’re able to line up and run the ball at pretty much anybody, so we’ll have our hands full with that.”

Howard is a threat to rip off long gains on the ground as well, with three runs of 50 and over. Then Trubisky is capable of taking off, too, with 163 yards rushing.

“His ability to make plays with his legs has been a positive,” Jenkins said. “He’s a mobile guy. When all else fails, he can escape the pocket and extend the play.

“Whether it’s scrambling for a first down, or scrambling to get somebody open, that’s always tough on the defense.”

Up until last week, it was beginning to look like there may not have been a running game in the league that the Eagles needed to fear. Then the Dallas Cowboys posted 112 yards last Sunday — tied for the most the Eagles have allowed all season and the most since Week 2. And Dallas was without All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is suspended.

Then again, if the Bears are only able to muster 112 yards rushing this week, the Eagles might consider that a victory in itself.

To put those numbers in perspective, exactly half of the league is allowing more than 112.0 yards rushing per game this season. In other words, the Bears are probably going to have to fare a lot better than that to knock off the Eagles.

“I think we set that bar awful high,” Schwartz said. “Some people might get a pat on the back for that.

“It's a tribute to the players in the locker room that that's a poor performance for them, and they consider it a poor performance.”