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Despite lack of catches, Torrey Smith making difference in unique way

Torrey Smith may not be catching a ton of passes these days, but he's helping the Eagles in another way.

By not catching them.

Smith drew his third pass interference penalty of the year Sunday in the win over the 49ers, and it was a big 36-yard penalty on Dontae Johnson down to the 1-yard line to set up the game's first touchdown at a point in which very little was going right for the Eagles.

This is nothing new. Going back to his rookie year of 2011, he's drawn an incredible 41 pass interference calls, along with eight defensive holding penalties.

Add them up and we're looking at 849 yards.

That's about half a mile of pass interference penalties.

Without going through thousands of gamebooks, there's no way to determine exactly where Smith ranks in the NFL since 2011 in drawing pass interference penalties.

But it's a safe bet to say he's among the leaders.

“If DPI's counted in your stats, I’d probably be a Hall of Famer," Smith said this week with a laugh. "I swear. It's been happening for years.

"I’m telling you. Literally years of being held. It happened so often in Baltimore, I’m not exaggerating when I say I would have had 15 touchdowns.”

On Sunday, Smith's 36-yard PI was the Eagles' second-longest offensive play of the game. Even though it doesn't even count as a play.

Smith is certainly not putting up the kind of numbers some expected. He has just 14 catches for 210 yards and one touchdown along with four drops in half a season.

Among wide receivers with six or more starts, he's tied with Kamar Aiken of the Colts for fewest catches this year. His 210 yards are fourth fewest.

The last three games, he has one catch for six yards.

"I haven’t really had the ball much the last few weeks," he said. "It’s not something you want. You’d rather make big plays and big catches and help the team win than draw penalties, but at the end of the day, my No. 1 job is to help the team win the game, and that’s happening, so I just have to make sure I’m ready when my number is called."

After being targeted 23 times the first five games, he's been targeted only five times the last three.

Asked how tough this stretch has been, he said, "I think it’s easier to deal with that when you’re winning."

Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said he was so impressed by Smith's effort on the play in which he drew a penalty Sunday that he showed it to the team in meetings Monday.

"It's definitely a skill," Reich said, "but here is what else it is, and this is one of the points that we made as an offense: On that particular play, I wish I could show it to you right now. That it was not just a skill, it was the effort.

"There were two minutes to go in the half. It's 3-0. We are not exactly lighting it up. It's 3rd-and-15. We are probably going in 6-0 at halftime. That's a huge play in the game.

"Torrey is probably, if you had a meter on him, is probably running faster than he's run all year long. To put a defender in a position where he's compromised, where he has to extend himself further to commit interference.

"If Torrey is maybe just going 98 percent, as opposed to 100, that's probably not a penalty. The defender can make the play with ease rather than having to extend.

"Those are the kind of things that can win or lose games. That play to me was a huge play in the game. Even though the score ended up being a wide margin, we were struggling a little bit on offense. … It's not only a skill, but it was an effort and an attitude."

Smith's stats aren't that impressive. But look past the stats, look past the numbers, and he has helped the Eagles get to 7-1.

"Rather have a touchdown than a PI," Smith said. "I probably would have like 15 more touchdowns in my career if I didn't get held.

"There's no secret to it. Just run and people kind of panic sometimes and that’s how it goes. It sounds simple, but just play fast and they’ll grab you."