Eagles

Carson Wentz, Eagles proving better than anyone in red zone

ap-carson-wentz-red-zone-cowboys-eagles.jpg
AP Images

Carson Wentz, Eagles proving better than anyone in red zone

If the Eagles cross their opponent's 20-yard line there's a good chance they're going to score a touchdown. 

A really good chance. 

In fact, they're better at scoring touchdowns in those situations than any other team in the league. The Eagles have become the best red-zone team in football.

Through 11 games, the Eagles have scored a touchdown on 71.8 percent of their trips into the red zone. The next closest team is Green Bay, which is scoring at a 67.7 percent clip. 

Against the Bears, the Eagles scored on three of their five trips to the red zone but were really better than that. Their fourth trip was ruined when a fumble happened on the snap from the backup center to the backup quarterback. And the final trip into the red zone ended in victory formation as the clock ran out. 

While the Eagles have scored touchdowns on 28 of their 39 trips into the red zone this season, they've been even better in their last six games. Since the Carolina game, the Eagles have scored on 18 of 22 trips to the red zone — an amazing 81 percent. 

"I think for us, it's just the continuity of continuing to rep and to execute the same concepts over and over each week," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. "I think it's one of the things that I credit the offensive coaches for is maximizing our personnel down there, creating some matchups. You saw yesterday with Alshon (Jeffery) at the one time on a linebacker, right before the half, and just putting our guys in positions to be successful.

"And then obviously this was — [defensive coordinator Vic Fangio] for the Bears is not a big zero-blitz guy bringing everybody in. He showed that yesterday and we were able to adjust and make some plays down there and score a touchdown to Nelson (Agholor) on one of those.

"So yeah, we just continue to execute our plan, execute our schemes, things we have worked on all offseason, all training camp and continue to get better."

The Eagles spend a good portion of every Friday practice working on situational football, which includes red-zone work. That seems to be paying off. 

The Eagles' improvement in the red zone this season is pretty incredible. Last season, they scored touchdowns on just 49.1 percent of their red-zone trips, so they were toward the bottom of the league. In fact, their 71.8 percent success rate this season is considerably higher than any success rate under Chip Kelly or Andy Reid. The closest mark came in the 2004 Super Bowl season when the Eagles scored on 63.8 percent of their trips to the red zone. They're eight percentage points better so far in 2017!

Part of the reason for this rise in success is pretty simple. It's the same reason Pederson gave a couple weeks ago for his team's success on the road: This Eagles team is just better. They're a better football team.

The other obvious answer is Carson Wentz. 

So much of red-zone success simply boils down to quarterback play and the Eagles have a potential MVP working for them. Pederson admitted a lot of the Eagles' success in the red zone comes "pre-snap" based on what the defense is showing. 

"You get a lot of information pre-snap on any down," Pederson said, "but particularly in the red zone when things become a little tighter, a little faster, lanes are a little narrow, or the ball has to be out a little faster, things like that."

Wentz is responsible for a lot pre-snap, but once the ball is in his hands, he makes things happen, too. He's been dynamic in the red zone this season. His 118.1 passer rating in the red zone is the third highest in the NFL and is actually 14 points higher than his overall passer rating. Just Eli Manning (121.2) and Drew Brees (118.4) have higher red-zone passer ratings. And Wentz has a better red-zone passer rating than Aaron Rodgers (116.2) and Tom Brady (108.3).

Check out Wentz's numbers in the red zone: 31 for 47, 242 yards, 20 TDs, 0 INT

And now Brady's red-zone season stats: 39 for 64, 243 yards, 20 TDs, 0 INT

Yup, the two MVP candidates are pretty close.   

“The biggest thing is the game plan we have coming in each week," Wentz said. "Our coaches do a tremendous job of getting guys in the right positions to make plays. Our balance of being able to run the ball down there and throw the ball has been big for us, too. And then it just comes down to guys making plays. We’re just making more of them right now. The tighter you get to the red zone, the defense has to declare their coverage a little more. In the back of our heads, we have those things we can go to versus different looks. Sometimes you have to change things, and sometimes you just let it roll. Coach called a great game.”

Pederson said that earlier in the season, he thought the Eagles struggled in the "big red-zone area," which is inside the 30. He challenged his offense to get better in those situations. He wanted the Eagles to run the ball better and take care of the football better in the red zone.

It worked. 

"They really have since that point, it was about after Week, maybe 3 or 4, somewhere in there, they have really embraced that," Pederson said. "And again, it comes down to their preparation and the way they practice on Fridays when we do our red zone. Just they don't want to be denied."

Stay or Go — Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles

us-graham-foles-gibson.png
USA Today Images

Stay or Go — Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles

As we continue our offseason series examining the future of the world champion Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro try to figure out who will be on the roster in 2018. 

We go alphabetically — Part 1 was Nelson Agholor to Derek Barnett, Part 2 was De'Vante Bausby to Brandon Brooks, Part 3 was Billy Brown to Vinny Curry, Part 4 was Ronald Darby to Zach Ertz. Today is Nick Foles to Corey Graham. 

Nick Foles
Roob: Fascinating one right off the bat. I don't think the Eagles can afford to trade Foles until they have some assurances that Carson Wentz will be 100 percent healthy and ready to go by opening day, and it's still too early for that. Unless they get bowled over with an offer — say a first-round pick and a third-round pick — they need to keep him around for one more year. It's tough to imagine the Super Bowl MVP starting the season running scout team with Greg Ward, Shelton Gibson and Marcus Johnson, but that's the reality. Foles will hit free agency in a year and pick his next stop. But for now, the smartest route is to keep him around another year.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: What should the Eagles do with Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles? It still seems crazy to type that. Well, there are probably a lot of fans who want the Eagles to trade Foles now when his value couldn't possibly be any higher. That's not a crazy idea. The possibility to get a high draft pick back and save over $5 million is definitely appealing. The problem, of course, is that Wentz is coming off an ACL and LCL tear and, even though his goal is Week 1, no one knows when he'll be ready. Having the Super Bowl MVP is a helluva insurance policy. It seems pretty clear the Eagles have the ability to win another Super Bowl with either quarterback. They can't be in a situation where they don't have either of them starting. 

Verdict: STAYS

Nathan Gerry
Roob: Gerry, a fifth-round pick last year, seems to be a decent prospect as a young late-round linebacker. He was a core special teamer — his 180 snaps were sixth-most on the team — and on a roster where the linebackers are generally older guys (with the exception of oft-injured Jordan Hicks), Gerry is in a position where a roster spot will be there for the taking if he has a good training camp. I figure Gerry is here at least one more year just as a special teamer, especially with Trey Burton likely to leave and Corey Clement likely to play less on special teams next year as his role on the offense grows.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: As a rookie, Gerry switched from safety to linebacker but didn't get a chance to play much on defense as a rookie. That's still a work in progress. But on special teams, Gerry found his role. He played in 10 regular-season games and then played in every game in the playoffs, including Super Bowl LII. For now, he's just a special teams player, but that's good enough. 

Verdict: STAYS

Shelton Gibson
Roob: Gibson, a fifth-round pick last year, got only 17 snaps on offense all year after a mostly disappointing training camp, and he caught just two passes for 11 yards all year. His lack of impact on special teams along with the Eagles' young depth puts his roster spot in jeopardy. Gibson will certainly be invited back to training camp, but for once, the Eagles have depth at wide receiver, and young guys like Mack Hollins and Johnson are well ahead of Gibson in the Eagles' eyes. Even if Torrey Smith doesn't return, Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery and Hollins have spots locked up in 2018, and Gibson will be fighting an uphill battle.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: After a really terrible training camp, Gibson began to pick it up enough late in the summer and made the team. He was inactive for the first 10 games of the 2017 season before he began to play a small role on special teams down the stretch. His special teams ability was what gave him the eventual edge over Johnson to be active down the stretch. He still hasn't shown his potential as a fifth-round speed receiver, but he'll get another chance. 

Verdict: STAYS

Najee Goode
Roob: Goode was one of those underrated pieces that every Super Bowl team seems to have but nobody ever talks about. He's a terrific special teamer — he was third behind Kamu Grugier-Hill and Burton with 294 special teams snaps — and also got 200 snaps at linebacker and held his own defensively. Goode is a free agent, but he's been around since 2013, and you can probably keep him at minimum wage. There's tremendous value in that as well.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It's pretty wild to think that Goode has been with the Eagles since 2013 and has appeared in 61 games with them. He isn't the best linebacker, but he's still a solid special teamer. He was on a one-year deal in 2017 so he's an unrestricted free agent-to-be. Goode is a 28-year-old who isn't a viable option on defense, but I never thought he'd be here this long and here we are. 

Verdict: STAYS

Brandon Graham
Roob: Next year, this could become a very interesting situation. Graham has developed into one of the NFL's top outside pass rushers and had a career-high 9½ sacks this year and made his first Pro Bowl. But he turns 30 this spring, and the Eagles have Derek Barnett under contract with modest cap figures through 2020. It's clear the Eagles can't afford to keep both Vinny Curry and Graham, and Graham is obviously the superior player, but how much money is he looking for and how difficult will it be for the Eagles to keep him? I expect Graham to look for a long-term deal in the $12-13 million per year range. He'll get it. I'm just not sure where.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: The Eagles didn't give Graham a new contract last offseason but they did make a showing of good faith when they added some incentives to the last two years of his contract. But it's not a new contract yet. He's still their most disruptive pass rusher. His strip sack on Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII was the biggest play of the game. The Eagles are going to have to figure out if they're going to break the bank to keep Graham around for another contract. For now, though, he'll be a huge part of the 2018 season in a contract year. 

Verdict: STAYS

Corey Graham
Roob: Corey Graham is another one of those one-year contract veterans who made a big impact this past season both on defense and special teams. He will turn 33 before camp opens, but he's in tremendous shape and takes great care of himself. He's played in 171 of a possible 176 games in his 11-year career and shows no sign of dropping off. Graham is also a terrific natural leader who was extremely vocal during the Super Bowl run. The Eagles don't really have any young safeties knocking on the door, so as long as Graham is willing to accept another cap-friendly contract, I don't see a reason not to re-sign him.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Signing Graham was one of the best moves Howie Roseman pulled off last summer. It was a pretty low-key move, but the team brought in a veteran safety who was great in the locker room and offered them a quality third safety. That allowed Malcolm Jenkins to slide into the slot when needed and allowed the Eagles to go with a smaller lineup in their dime package when necessary. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but without a ton of great linebackers, having the flexibility to go small was huge. Graham is a free agent again and the Eagles might try to go younger, but they should at least think about bringing Graham back. 

Verdict: STAYS

Rick Lovato explains why he got a huge Lombardi Trophy tattoo

lombardi-tattoo.jpg
Rick Lovato

Rick Lovato explains why he got a huge Lombardi Trophy tattoo

After the Eagles beat the Patriots, 41-33, in Super Bowl LII, there will be a Vince Lombardi Trophy living in Philadelphia permanently. 

There will also be one on Rick Lovato forever. 

On Wednesday, the Eagles' long snapper tweeted out a photo of some new ink, a huge Lombardi Trophy on the left side of his torso. Lovato isn't the only Eagles player or fan to get a tattoo after the Super Bowl, but it looks like his tattoo might be one of the biggest. 

On Thursday, Lovato went back on Twitter to explain why he decided to get the trophy tattooed on himself. 

Two years ago, in April of 2016, Lovato visited the grave of Vince Lombardi, which happens to be in his hometown of Middletown, N.J. He said that's also where his grandfather is buried. 

"I still pray and thank Coach Lombardi to this day because of how my life has changed since the day I visited his grave," Lovato explained in his tweet. 

A couple months before Lovato's visit, MMQB's Jenny Vrentas took a trip to Mount Olivet Cemetery to learn a little bit about the legendary coach's unassuming grave.

When Lovato visited Lombardi's final resting place, the long snapper was still playing for the Packers. After a college career at Old Dominion, Lovato spent that first summer with the Bears but didn't make the team and wasn't signed by the Packers until December of 2015 when their long-snapper suffered an injury. 

Lovato spent the rest of the season with the Packers and was with them for the next whole spring and summer. But just a few months after his visit to the cemetery, he was released. 

During the 2016 season, he was signed by Washington to fill in for 10 days before he was again cut. Lovato was back working at his family's restaurant, "Joyce's Subs and Pizza" in Lincroft, N.J. after that, but Jon Dorenbos got hurt and the Eagles needed a replacement. Lovato did a good enough job at the end of last season to warrant a position battle this past summer. He won the competition and was the Eagles' long snapper in their Super Bowl season. 

It seems like the tattoo is a reward for finally making it to the pinnacle. 

Here's Lovato's full explanation of his new ink and what it means to him: 

"For those who want some more background on my tattoo, 2 years ago I visited Vince Lombardi's grave in my hometown of Middletown, NJ where my grandfather is buried. Not having a full time job in the NFL yet and not knowing where this career would take me, I trusted my passion and faith to keep reaching my dreams. Since then I was cut two more times and could've given up on those dreams, but it made me want it more than ever. After a heated battle with my friend Jon Dorenbos in training camp I had finally found my place in this league. Through the ups and the downs of my first full season in the NFL, I have fulfilled my dream of playing and winning the Super Bowl. It has brought me more joy in my life than I could've ever imagined. I still pray and thank Coach Lombardi to this day because of how my life has changed since the day I visited his grave. This tattoo means much more than just winning a Super Bowl. It represents my journey, everyone who's supported me and my faith in God."