Eagles

Despite 27-point lead, Rodney McLeod's TD-saving tackle huge in locker room

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Despite 27-point lead, Rodney McLeod's TD-saving tackle huge in locker room

If Cardinals receiver J.J. Nelson had scored there with a minute left, nobody would have really paid attention. In the big picture? It wouldn't have mattered.

The final score would have been 34-14 instead of 34-7, and the celebration would have been just as raucous, the jubilation just as intense.

It's a play that didn't matter.

Just don't tell Rodney McLeod.

"Nothing's here for free," he said.

Here's the situation: The Eagles took a 34-7 lead over the Cards Sunday at the Linc with 2:05 left on Jake Elliott's second field goal of the game.

As the final seconds ticked away, Carson Palmer drove the Cards down to the Eagles' 29-yard-line, where on 1st-and-10 he threw a short pass near the left sideline to Nelson, who broke a Patrick Robinson tackle and made a bee-line for the end zone and appeared to score the Arizona's second touchdown of the game.

A meaningless touchdown but a touchdown nonetheless.

McLeod wasn't having any of it.

He raced over from the middle of the field and belted Nelson just as he was about to enter the end zone. Replays showed the ball not only coming loose before Nelson crossed the goal-line but also bouncing out of the end zone for a touchback.

The touchdown was overturned, the Eagles ran out the clock, and 50 years from now, when Eagles fans look back at the 2017 season, they'll see 34-7 and not 34-14.

All because McLeod made an incredible play when it didn't matter a bit.

Which is exactly why he's a guy you want on your football team.

"Man, it's just how we approach every day, every week as DB's and as a defense as a whole," McLeod said at his locker. "I know in our room, we always talking about loafing, and we stress that a lot in practice, and so a play like that, it just becomes second nature, and that's what it was.

"We hold ourselves to a high standard. We look at a loaf as a traitor in our room, so everybody holds one another accountable. I don't want to let my brothers down."

Eric Allen is the greatest cornerback in Eagles history. Buddy Ryan found him while watching tape of an Arizona State blowout loss in 1987. With the Sun Devils hopelessly trailing Cal in the final minutes, he saw Allen race down the field and knock a Cal player out of bounds just short of the goal-line, and he decided that's a guy he wanted on his team.

If you're a pro, you're not out there thinking about the score or the standings or the postgame celebration. Even up 37-7 with a minute left.

You're thinking only one thing.

Make a play.

"That was a play where Patrick, unfortunately, missed a tackle, but me and Kamu (Grugier-Hill) were there hustling to make a play, and that's what this defense is about," McLeod said.

"Hustle plays like that make up for guys missing tackles and you begin to trust one another. It's just that mentality. Never give up."

Why are the Eagles 4-1 and in first place in the NFC East with the second-best record in football?

Exactly because of that mentality.

"Just being there for my brother," McLeod said. "It's just a part of our DNA. Once you hit that field, you give 100 percent and you're all in, and that's what we were.

"It is contagious. It rubs off a lot. You come to practice, we do it each and every day. We don't take that lightly."

Robinson was kicking himself for that missed tackle, which came at the end of what may have been his best game in eight years as a pro.

Robinson was all over the field Sunday. He knocked down three passes, made four tackles, blocked a field goal and was generally mistake-free in his coverage.

Really, he played perfect football for 59 minutes. Then missed a tackle.

"I was like, 'Man, how did I give up that cheap catch? That cheap touchdown?'" Robinson said. "Then I saw the replay, and I was just so grateful for those guys to turn that into a touchback. I was so grateful they picked me up.

"But that's what it's all about. Being a team. Doing your job. We play till the last whistle. We play till it's 0-0-0, and that's what Rodney and Kamu did."

McLeod and Robinson both said they initially thought McLeod had saved a touchdown but the Cards would have a 1st-and-Goal on the 1-yard line.

Then they realized it was a touchback and the game was over.

"OK, add that to the stat sheet," McLeod said with a laugh.

The Eagles got to 4-1 by beating Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer the last three weeks. That's three potential Hall of Fame quarterbacks. All three rank in the top 13 in NFL history in passing yards.

McLeod's play might not have made a difference in the standings, but it sure exemplifies exactly what this football team is all about.

"Being a team," Robinson said. "Having each other's back. That's exactly what it is."

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."