Eagles

Carson Wentz already accomplishing things even Donovan McNabb didn't

Carson Wentz already accomplishing things even Donovan McNabb didn't

After the Eagles beat the Cards at the Linc a couple weeks ago, I ran into Donovan McNabb outside the locker room and asked him if he thought he'd have any franchise records left by the time Carson Wentz was finished.

"Are you kidding?" Donovan said with a smile. "Nope. He's going to break all of them."

What he didn't say was that Wentz might break all of them this year.

McNabb is the greatest quarterback in Eagles history. A six-time Pro Bowler. A guy who probably won't be a Hall of Famer but should at least be in the conversation.

And Wentz is now doing things McNabb never did or didn't do until several years into his outstanding career.

Seventeen touchdowns through seven games? Donovan never did that.

Three touchdown passes in three straight games? Donovan never did that.

Two four-touchdown games in a three-week span? Donovan didn't do that until his sixth season.

A passer rating of 90 or higher in five straight games? Donovan didn't do that until his eighth season.

Nine straight games with at least one touchdown pass and one or fewer interceptions? Donovan never did that.

Wentz has thrown four TD passes of 50 yards or more in seven games this year. Donovan had four TD passes of 50 yards in his first 50 games.

Wentz is on pace for 38 touchdown passes. Donovan averaged 21 per year as an Eagle and threw more than 25 only once.

A 133 passer rating on third down? No. 5 was never even over 85 until his 10th year.

Yes, the game has changed since Donovan was a rookie 18 years ago. More of a passing league. And no, none of this is meant to disparage the achievements of McNabb, who never had the weapons Carson currently has.

But it does provide startling context into just how far Wentz has come in an extremely short period of time.

Wentz has blossomed over the past month into a flat-out superstar. His decision making is off the charts. His pocket awareness is astounding. His deep accuracy is getting better every day. His ability to use his legs to escape trouble and make plays on the move is astonishing. His knack for absorbing a huge hit and bouncing up and standing tall in the pocket and making throws down the field moments later is astounding.

This is Year 2.

We all expected Wentz to improve dramatically in Year 2, but this? 

Very few quarterbacks in NFL history have been this explosive this fast. 

In fact, Wentz's 104.0 passer rating through seven games is the fifth-highest in NFL history by a second-year player. And three of the four ahead of him (Dan Marino, Kurt Warner, Otto Graham) are in the Hall of Fame. The other is his backup (Nick Foles).

He's 23 games into his career. 

I ran into injured Eagles special teamer and safety Chris Maragos after the game Monday night, and he put Wentz's progress into perspective, pointing out that 22 months ago he was playing in the Missouri Valley Conference and 14 months ago he was a third-stringer behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel.

So in a little over a year he's gone from backing up Chase Daniel to convincing McNabb he won't have any team records left.

Wentz's meteoric ascent from a third-stringer who was supposed to be inactive going into opening day last year before Teddy Bridgewater got hurt to a record-setting 24-year-old who's quarterbacking the hottest team in football at an MVP level is virtually unprecedented in NFL history.

We're still a week away from the midpoint of the season, but Wentz is on pace for over 4,200 yards, 38 touchdowns, nine interceptions and more than 400 rushing yards.

Here's a list of QBs in NFL history who've thrown for 4,200 yards, rushed for 400 yards and thrown fewer than 10 interceptions: 

Yep. Nobody. Ever.

I know, I know, don't get carried away. It's only seven games, you never know what the future holds, it's all about what he does over the long haul, blah, blah, blah.

But it's impossible to not get carried away watching this kid play football. He's that good. He does things that defy belief. The way he's playing right now, I can't figure out how the Eagles will lose another game.

And the scary thing is he's going to get better. 

Donovan told me two weeks ago he believes Wentz will be the greatest Eagles quarterback of all-time by the time he was done.

Wentz may hold that title a lot sooner than any of us expected.

Why Eagles' play in trenches is behind 8-game win streak

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Why Eagles' play in trenches is behind 8-game win streak

The strength of the Eagles is built on fundamental, sound pay on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Yes, the play of Carson Wentz is the biggest reason the Birds are 9-1, but the play of the defensive line and offensive line are also major factors.

There was no question coming into the season that the DL would pull its weight. I doubt if knowledgeable football minds could argue against the D-line being ranked the No. 1 unit in the NFL.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz centered his defense around the play of his D-line's ability to generate constant pressure on opposing offenses, whether that's in the run game — the Eagles are the NFL's best run defense — or creating havoc on quarterbacks in the pocket. The defensive line has allowed the young secondary to catch up and perform well above expectations, and then Ronald Darby returned Sunday in Dallas (see story).

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles' offensive line has also become a top-five unit in the NFL, and that's without future Hall of Famer Jason Peters. I know Carson Wentz wouldn't argue that.

In Sunday's 37-9 win over the Cowboys, the Eagles' O-line, against a pass rush with featuring a stout defensive front that includes NFL sack leader DeMarcus Lawerence (11 1/2), didn't allow a sack. A lot of credit goes to Lane Johnson for his work on Lawrence.

With no real individual leader to hold this Eagles' offense's hat on, it's a total team effort in which the Eagles go about their about their business. This is just a shining example of why this O-line is so good and underrated. At 9-1, there has not been a wide receiver over 100 yards in a game. If my memory serves me right, the Birds have had a 100-yard rusher twice, both by LeGarrette Blount. So, even with the absence of the all-world Peters, I am secure in rating the Eagles' OL as the No. 1 unit in the NFL.

Fundamentally speaking, football is won in the trenches. I was privileged to be a part of a Super Bowl team with the same formula the Eagles are using to win eight straight games: A young franchise QB (Ben Roethlisberger), a really good defense and a very good O-line.

The Eagles are just scratching the surface with their potential. Like these young players — guys like Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Derek Barnett — develop in the trenches, the sky's the limit for the core of this team.

Doug Pederson uncertain on Eagles' kickers heading into game vs. Bears

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Doug Pederson uncertain on Eagles' kickers heading into game vs. Bears

One kicker is getting better. One kicker just got hurt. One kicker isn’t even a kicker at all. Who’s going to kick Sunday? Maybe Caleb Sturgis, maybe Jake Elliott, maybe someone else. Definitely not Kamu Grungier-Hill. 
 
Does that clear everything up?
 
Head coach Doug Pederson revealed Monday that Elliott, the rocket-legged rookie, will be the Eagles’ placekicker long-term moving forward, but he also said he doesn’t know whether Elliott — who suffered a concussion Sunday night during the win in Dallas — will be available for this Sunday’s game at home against the Bears.
 
"We haven't made any decisions yet," Pederson said. "We still have a couple days before we have to make a decision."
 
Elliott replaced Sturgis, who suffered a quad strain in the opener against the Redskins and has been on injured reserve since. 
 
Ideally, the Eagles want Elliott to be cleared through the NFL’s concussion protocol and be able to kick Sunday so they can keep Sturgis on IR. 

If Elliott isn’t ready, they could activate Sturgis, who Pederson said is "close," but that would mean they would have to clear a spot on the 53-man roster for a guy who they don’t plan on keeping long-term. 
 
"He's continuing to rehab, he's begun a kicking regimen," Pederson said. "He's getting himself back to where he was prior to the injury. He's close. He's close."
 
If neither Elliott nor Sturgis is able to go, the Eagles could add a third kicker for a week or two, although that would also require keeping two kickers on the 53 (and another on IR).
 
"Again, you're talking about roster spots and making moves and things of that nature," he said. "We're not there yet. We'll continue these discussions the next couple days."
 
Most importantly, Pederson said despite Sturgis’ excellent track record since joining the Eagles, Elliott will be the team’s kicker once everybody is healthy. 
 
"I think so," Pederson said. "If he's healthy and he can play. You hate to disrupt that right now. I'd have to say yes to that one."
 
Sturgis is scheduled to be a free agent after the season. Elliott is under contract through 2018, and the Eagles control his rights through 2019.
 
Elliott, whom the Eagles signed off the Bengals’ practice squad in September, is 17 for 21 this year. He missed from 34 yards against the Cowboys Sunday night, although that miss came after he apparently suffered the concussion. 

Pederson said the concussion symptoms weren't discovered until after Elliott had attempted the field goal.
 
Elliott has made five of six attempts from 50 yards and out, including the franchise-record, game-winning 61-yarder against the Giants.
 
Sturgis is 7 for 11 as an Eagle from 50 yards and out. Including his years with the Dolphins, he's an 81.0 percent kicker, although with the Eagles he's made 84.8 percent of his field goal attempts — third-best in franchise history behind Cody Parkey (87.5 percent) and Alex Henery (86.0 percent).
 
"I think moving forward, as we continue to evaluate this week, we'll find out more in the next couple days with Jake, and I don't want to put myself in a box, but we'll keep all the options open," Pederson said.
 
"It kind of goes back to the same old thing. We still have a couple days here today and tomorrow to evaluate Jake and see where everybody's at. There's still a little while before we play Sunday."
 
There's one other option.

No, not letting Grugier-Hill kick. Going for two all the time.
 
Pederson — who's 9 for 12 as Eagles head coach on two-point conversion attempts — admitted he's thought about it.
 
"Yeah, I have," he said. "You always go into a game with a few (plays) in your pocket. You never expect that situation again like we had last night. But, yeah, you look at the numbers. If you're around 94, 95 percent on the extra point from the 15-yard line, your conversion rate should be in that 47, 48, 49 percent on a two-point conversion. So we look at all of that.
 
"We keep a couple extra plus-five red zone plays in our pocket for that situation. It just worked out, I think 3 for 4 last night. It's something we'll look at going forward."