Eagles

Despite raising bar in 2017, Philadelphia won't host 2018 NFL draft

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Despite raising bar in 2017, Philadelphia won't host 2018 NFL draft

The City of Philadelphia did an incredible job hosting the 2017 draft.

And it still wasn't enough to keep the event. 

The NFL announced the 2018 draft will be held in the Dallas Cowboys' home, AT&T Stadium. Dallas — or technically Arlington, Texas — will be the third city to host the draft in three years, following Chicago and Philly. 

It has been rumored for months that Jerry Jones had his city as the favorite to host the next draft. Turns out those rumors were right. 

Good luck topping what Philly did in 2017 though. 

“Philadelphia raised the bar by taking the Draft to another level, and this new opportunity in Dallas will enable us to continue the event’s evolution and grow it even further,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We are grateful to the Dallas Cowboys, the cities of Arlington, Dallas, and Frisco, and the Dallas Sports Commission for their leadership in turning this vision into reality.” 

The 2018 draft will begin on April 26. The NFL's release said the draft site will include the field, stands and outdoor plazas. 

According to the NFL, at the 2017 draft, a record 250,000 fans attended the three-day event along the Ben Franklin Parkway. The estimated economic impact for the city was $94.9 million. 

“The Draft was a family-friendly event for Philadelphians and visitors across the country,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “I thank all of our public and private partners, especially the City employees and first responders, who made this event a success and allowed Philly to shine in the national spotlight once again.”

Aside from the numbers, the draft in Philly was aesthetically pleasing. The television shots from the Parkway were gorgeous and the vibe around the entire event was special. 

Things went so well, NFL senior vice president of events Peter O'Reilly said the draft in Philly was a "resounding success." 

It won't be coming back in 2018, but the next time it does, the city will be ready. 

Negative perception of Zach Ertz ancient history

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Negative perception of Zach Ertz ancient history

If you still think of Zach Ertz as the guy who avoided contact against Vontaze Burfict last year in Cincinnati, if you still of Ertz as a guy who lacks toughness, if you still think of Ertz as a tight end who doesn't fight for every yard, you might want to think again. 

He isn't that guy anymore. 

That guy — or at least the perception of that guy — seems to still haunt the 27-year-old. But ever since that game against the Bengals last year and the negative attention that followed, Ertz has been on a mission to never put himself in a position to get his effort called out again. 

Against the Falcons last Saturday, Ertz was able to beat the cornerback in coverage and pick up a huge third-down conversion in the fourth quarter that helped the Eagles move down the field and make it a five-point game. 

"Third down, I want to be the guy, third down in the divisional round, I want to be the guy that gets the number called," Ertz said. "I still hear that stuff from the Cincinnati game last year. Two years ago, it would have ate me up. Living in the city, you're going to develop some extremely tough skin, what I've learned. And I've rallied around the guys in the locker room, and they have definitely changed the way I look at life over the past year or so.

"So obviously that week was not easy for me. But it's something that I've embraced, something that definitely changed my outlook of the game and I'm definitely a better player because of it."

On Thursday, head coach Doug Pederson said he always sees growth in players after they deal with any kind of adversity. 

That missed block on Burfict and the negative attention that followed certainly counts. 

"He's obviously bounced back," Pederson said. "I know he got a lot of scrutiny from that game and he's been able to block that out and he's really done an excellent job, honestly, since." 

Ertz didn't have a monster game against the Falcons. He caught three passes for 32 yards. But the folks who questioned whether Ertz would ever have that "breakout season" have been silenced. This season, Ertz caught 74 passes for 824 yards and eight touchdowns. That comes after a season with 78 catches for 816 yards and four touchdowns. 

In the last two seasons, Ertz has 152 catches for 1,640 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's one of just nine players in the NFL to put up those numbers or better and one of two tight ends, along with Kansas City's Travis Kelce. 

Ertz made his first Pro Bowl this season and it's time to face the facts: he's really good. 

So forget about Cincinnati. That's ancient history at this point. 

"I think I want to be the guy, red zone, third down, I want to be the guy that gets the number called," Ertz said. "I put a lot of pride in what I do as a receiver in those situations, kind of using my body when we need to make a play and if the ball comes to me, great, I'm going to make the play and if not, I'm all for throwing the ball to Alshon [Jeffery], Nelson [Agholor] or Trey Burton. That's why we have those amazing players on our team so no one is able to focus on one guy."

Of all players, Big V could be key to Eagles' victory

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Of all players, Big V could be key to Eagles' victory

Halapoulivaati Vaitai is already a huge reason why the Eagles are playing for the NFC Championship. Now, he might be the key to reaching the Super Bowl.

The Eagles couldn’t have made it this far without Vaitai, who took over at left tackle way back in Week 7 when Jason Peters was lost for the season. But on Sunday, Peters’ replacement faces one of his stiffest tests to date in Vikings right defensive end Everson Griffen.

“He's a game-wrecker,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of Griffen this week.

Recently named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl, Griffen set career highs with 13.0 sacks in 2017, finishing tied for fourth in the NFL. It was the third time in four seasons the eighth-year veteran went into double digits, and he’s still going strong, getting to the quarterback once more in the Vikings’ divisional round playoff win over the Saints.

Griffen is one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the league. Vaitai was a minimally experienced backup until mid-October. On paper, the matchup looks like a serious concern.

“Fast, strong guy,” Eagles right guard Brandon Brooks said of Griffen. “He’s played in this league for years now, got experience.

“But V is big and strong too. He has not as much experience, but got more experience than a lot of younger guys his age with the games he started last year and games he’s playing this year, so I know V is up to the challenge.”

A fifth-round draft pick in 2016, Vaitai has 17 NFL starts under his belt and 11 this season, including playoffs. The results are somewhat mixed, though the Eagles have an 8-2 record since the 24-year-old stepped in at left tackle.

Vaitai hasn’t made anybody forget about Peters — a future Hall of Famer — but the second-year player is holding his own and improving steadily.

“He’s got a lot better, especially from last year to this year,” left guard Stefen Wisniewski said. “His technique has improved greatly. I think his football IQ has gone up. He’s really worked hard to get better every day, and his pass blocking has improved tremendously.”

This week perhaps more than any other, the Eagles can’t afford a liability at the tackle position.

The gravity of the situation is obvious, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Plus, in addition to Griffen, the Vikings boast the league’s No. 1 defense both in scoring and yardage. Points and positive drives will be hard enough to come by for the Eagles without consistent disruption at the line of scrimmage (see story).

Naturally, Pederson plans to provide assistance for Vaitai. However, the Vikings are also known for using exotic double A-gap blitzes up the middle and other overload pressure packages, and the Eagles can’t double-team one guy the entire game.

There will be occasions when Griffen is one-on-one, and it’s on Vaitai to shut him down.

“It's a lot of respect for him,” Pederson said of Griffen. “He can change the ballgame.

“He knows that tight ends are going to help over there, backs are going to help over there, slide protection. It’s not rocket science. But Big V has had a challenge all season. We've faced some tremendous defensive ends all season long, and this will be his greatest challenge in this game. I have a lot of confidence in V and what he's done this season.”

Whether out of comfort or necessity or resignation, at this point, the Eagles seem fine with the idea of Vaitai versus Griffen. Right tackle Lane Johnson doesn’t see the potential mismatch as a big deal at all.

“We’ll have some chip pros and some slams tied in, but other than that though, I think he’ll be alright,” Johnson said. “Just another guy in there.”

Vaitai has often looked like “just another guy” this season, in varying senses of the phrase. He’s experienced his share of struggles, then been able to quietly blend in with a strong offensive line for long periods.

Whichever Vaitai the Eagles get on Sunday could go a long way toward determining the outcome on Sunday.