Eagles

3 reasons Eagles wise to keep Lane Johnson at RT

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USA Today Images

3 reasons Eagles wise to keep Lane Johnson at RT

As the Eagles began the individual portion of Thursday's practice, Halapoulivaati Vaitai was at left tackle next to Stefen Wisniewski. Lane Johnson remained at right tackle. 

It might seem to go against some conventional wisdom, but the Eagles are planning for Big V to take over for Jason Peters as the protector of Carson Wentz's blindside instead of sliding Johnson over. 

On Sunday, the line will look like this (from left to right): Vaitai, Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Johnson. 

Either way, losing Peters (MCL, ACL) for the season is huge. It'll be tough to overcome. But in the past, the team has toyed with the idea of moving Johnson to left tackle in a situation just like this. But now they're not.

There are a few reasons why this is the right move: 

1. Doesn't weaken two spots
While Peters had been playing at an All-Pro level at left tackle through seven games this season, Johnson was nearly as good on the right side. 

"I think I'm better on the right for now," Johnson said on Wednesday. "I haven't had any reps over there."

The thing about moving Johnson over and then replacing him with Vaitai is that it would weaken two spots instead of just one on the line. Johnson wouldn't be as good as Peters at left tackle and Vaitai clearly wouldn't be as good as Johnson on the right. 

It would make plenty of sense to get their best offensive tackle covering Wentz's blindside, but then the Eagles would probably limit Johnson in some ways by asking him to play out of position.  

2. Big V looked OK
A lot of folks probably still think about that disaster Vaitai had against Washington last season when Ryan Kerrigan beat him up and down the field. Last year's fifth-round pick doesn't look like that guy anymore. Is he an All-Pro? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But at least Vatai looks like he belongs in the NFL. 

If you take the time to go back and look at his game against Washington on Monday after Peters' injury, Vaitai actually played pretty well (see story). Sure, he gave up a couple plays, but he kept Wentz clean and even had one big play in the run game. 

Big V isn't going to be Peters, but there's a chance he might look like a serviceable player for the last nine games of the season. 

3. Great players over RT 
Johnson has already faced some great pass-rushers this season but there are more to come. DeMarcus Lawrence from the Cowboys, Von Miller from the Broncos and Khalil Mack from the Raiders are three of the best pass-rushers in football. And guess where they like to line up? Yup. On the left side of the defensive line, across from the right tackle. 

Now, you're saying, 'Why wouldn't those guys move across the line and face Vaitai instead?' Fair point. Washington actually tried that on Monday. Two plays after Peters went down, Kerrigan lined up over Vaitai, who held his own. And why make life easier on those top pass-rushers? If they want to seek out a favorable matchup, let them move, don't bring that favorable matchup to them. 

Eagles Injury Update: Jake Elliott (concussion) cleared to play vs. Bears

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Eagles Injury Update: Jake Elliott (concussion) cleared to play vs. Bears

After a week of worrying, everyone can finally relax. 

Jake Elliott is going to play on Sunday. 

The Eagles' kicker officially cleared the NFL's concussion protocol on Friday morning, when he was cleared by an independent neurologist. Throughout the week it looked likely that Elliott would be able to play, but it didn't become official until Friday. 

Elliott suffered a concussion against the Cowboys during the first half of Sunday's game at AT&T Stadium. The Eagles needed to finish the game going for two-point conversions and with linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill kicking off. 

Beau Allen (knee) and Trey Burton (back) will both be game-time decisions, according to head coach Doug Pederson. 

Burton's back spasms came from the game on Sunday and he has been dealing with the issue all week. He missed practice on Thursday. If Burton can't play, the Eagles would go into Sunday's game with two tight ends — Zach Ertz and Brent Celek. If Burton is inactive, Celek will likely have an increased role, Pederson said. 

If Allen can't play, it's likely rookie Elijah Qualls will be active for the first time since the Arizona game. Qualls has played just eight defensive snaps all season. 

Eagles' defense on historic run of eliminating big plays

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Eagles' defense on historic run of eliminating big plays

Big plays killed the Eagles last year. They allowed the second-most 20-yard plays in the NFL, the third-most 30-yard plays and the third-most 40-yard plays.

Those plays have largely evaporated this year, and the Eagles' ability to reduce — and lately eliminate — big plays has contributed tremendously to their eight-game winning streak and NFL-best 9-1 record.

“We're just all doing our job, nothing more, nothing less," Patrick Robinson said. "When the plays are presenting itself, we make those plays. It’s been huge for us so far. Make them throw it down in front of us." 

After last year's barrage of long passes and big runs, the Eagles, this year, rank third in the NFL in 40-yard plays allowed, third in 30-yard plays and second in 20-yard plays.

The improvement is astonishing.

It's been a month and a half since an opposing offense last hit a play longer than 32 yards against the Eagles — the Chargers game, to be specific. 

That's six straight games without allowing a big play.

That's the Eagles' longest stretch without an opposing play longer than 32 yards in at least 25 years.

“Last year, it was something we wanted to correct going into this year," Malcolm Jenkins said. "Big plays, it’s a group effort. And that’s the D-line included in that, linebackers, DBs. 

"I think one of the factors when it comes to passes down the field, I think the corners and the guys on the outside are doing a good job challenging down the field and quarterbacks don’t have a lot of time to throw it down the field, so we get hit with a lot of quick plays, and we’re tackling well, so we don’t have those missed tackles and plays going for 20, 30 yards. 

"All those things are contributing to it. And we’re doing a great job on third down, so we’re giving ourselves an opportunity to get off the field, and we’re not allowing them to score quickly. They’ve got to dink and dunk it, and eventually, we win on third down."

Let's take a look at the longest plays the Eagles have allowed in each of their last six games:

Cardinals [34-7 win]: Passing - 28 yards, Rushing - 14 yards
Panthers [28-23 win]: Passing - 20, Rushing - 20
Redskins [34-24 win]: Passing - 32, Rushing - 15
49ers [33-10 win]: Passing - 24, Rushing - 12
Broncos [51-23 win]: Passing - 32, Rushing - 9
Cowboys [37-9 win]: Passing - 19, Rushing - 22

During that same span, there have been 233 offensive plays league-wide longer than any play the Eagles have given up.

Like Jenkins said, it's going to be very difficult to drive 80 yards down the field against the Eagles without hitting any big plays. They're ranked second in the NFL on third down coversion rate at 29.1 percent, behind only the Vikings (28.5 percent).

And during these last six games, the Eagles have allowed only eight offensive touchdowns. Three of them came on short fields. So they've only given up five TD drives longer than 52 yards since Week 5. Just one in the last three games.

Limiting big plays means limiting touchdowns. And that wins games. It's a pretty simple formula.

"Defensively, there are a lot of different things you want to do, but the very first thing you want to do is stop a drive," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said.

"The thing that correlates the highest to scoring plays, whether it's a field goal or ends up being a touchdown, are plus-20 [yard] plays. You don't want to play conservative. There's a fine line there, too. You [might] not give up [a 20-yard play] the whole time and just let somebody matriculate down the field. 

"I think we're a good tackling team. I think we're a good communicating team, and we've had a lot of different guys get experience. Our lineup was a little bit different just about every game early in the season. Some guys got hurt early in games, and they were filling roles. I think as the season has gone on we've settled down. I think that's probably the biggest part of that."

Of the eight plays of at least 35 yards the Eagles have allowed this year, three were Philip Rivers passes, two were Alex Smith passes, one was an Eli Manning pass and the other was a 35-yard run by Austin Ekeler of the Chargers on his first carry of the year.

When you tackle well and communicate well, those big plays just aren't going to happen. 

For the sake of comparison, since the Eagles last allowed an offensive play longer than 35 yards, the rest of the NFC East has allowed 27 of them.

“I’d say communication (is) definitely a big factor," Nigel Bradham said. "And also chemistry. Guys understand the scheme and how to play together with one another and have a good understanding of the scheme. It’s our second year in the scheme, most of us, some guys in their first year contributing, but we’re learning and everybody’s just feeding off each other.

"We just motivate ourselves. We trying to get off the field and get our offense on the field. We know what we have on the offensive side of the ball. Their ability to put up points is unbelievable. So we’re just trying to get them on the field as much as we can."