‘Disrespected’ Eagles’ defense outshines vaunted Broncos’ D

USA Today Images

‘Disrespected’ Eagles’ defense outshines vaunted Broncos’ D

The Eagles reached a new low Sunday. The 226 yards of offense by the Denver Broncos is the lowest total allowed by the Eagles' defense this season.

The Broncos entered Week 9 with the top-ranked defense in the NFL, and a reputation as arguably the best unit in the league. But the only dominant defense that showed up at Lincoln Financial Field was the Eagles' in a lopsided 51-23 victory (see breakdown)

You think they wanted to make a statement?

"They always don't give us the credit, but we have to go out there and keep putting people on notice that the Eagles are new and improved," Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said.

No doubt about it.

“We're obviously a defense that's kind of on the rise when it comes to notoriety and what we're doing," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We're improving week in and week out, but coming into this game, all we heard about was the Broncos defense, and they're coming to our house.”

The beating was worse than the final score might indicate. It was 44-9 when the Broncos scored their first touchdown with 9:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, while their vaunted defense tacked on seven points with a fumble return for a touchdown against the Eagles' second-string offense.

Outside of garbage time, the Broncos offense managed to get in range for three field goals.

Denver finished with 14 first downs, averaged 3.8 yards per play and committed two turnovers.

“We still have a couple holes that we could fill," Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said. "I think we had one run that got out on us a little bit — maybe like eight, nine yards — a couple pass plays.”

For the record, the Broncos' longest run went for nine yards, and that accounted for a quarter of their production on the ground — 35 yards on 19 carries. The 1.8 average per attempt was another low for the Eagles' defense in 2017.

“We knew they would have to protect their quarterback, and the only way they could do that was trying to run the ball, so we knew we had to come off the bus stopping the run," Jenkins said. "We snuffed that out very early.”

The Eagles were second to only Denver in run defense but will move into No. 1 after this performance. Opponents are gaining just 66.4 yards per game.

“We pretty much have that mentality in our mind where we know you're not going to run the ball," Bradham said. "So you might as well get ready to get one-dimensional, ready to pass the ball — and I hope you're ready for our D-line to come after you.”

A one-dimensional Broncos offense was no threat with Brock Osweiler under center. Making his first start at quarterback this season, Osweiler completed 50 percent of his passes for 5.5 yards per attempt with one touchdown, three sacks and two interceptions.

It was a scenario that's become familiar to the Eagles. Shut down the run. Build a lead. Force the other team to put the ball in the air (see observations)

"When they did have to drop back and pass, we had people in the quarterback's face," Jenkins said. "We have guys on the back end that can make plays. That always plays into our advantage when teams have to play us one-handed, and that's really been the formula all year.

"Stop the run. Make people pass the ball against us. Guys in the back end are making plays on the ball. Our front is getting pressure, getting sacks.

“If we can continue, that formula puts us in a great spot for every game.”

It was another statement by this defense and a once-maligned secondary, juxtaposed with the star-studded "No Fly Zone" in Denver that surrendered four touchdown passes (see report card).

“They talk a lot about their secondary, and they're a good group, but we felt like we've been good up to this date," Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said.

"We've been playing well, we've been getting turnovers, and so we wanted to go out there and show what we're about.”

The Eagles entered the week ranked 27th against the pass, though are likely to improve after the effort Sunday. Still, the secondary's numbers, and really the defense's numbers as a whole, don't lend the appearance of one of the NFL's best units.

“We always felt we were the top defense and we honestly felt we were a little disrespected," Bradham said. "All the talk, everybody saying they had the best defense. Every week we want to show we have the best defense, but this week there was a little bit extra fuel added to the fire.”

Slapping around an Osweiler-led Broncos offense might not change many minds. And as much as the Eagles wanted to send a message to the rest of the league, it doesn't much matter, either.

“We don't really care where people put us or rank us," Eagles defensive end Chris Long said. "We just know that if you have to play us, it's going to be a full 60-minute game and you're going to have to earn it.”

Or put another way, the Eagles have amassed an 8-1 record for the season as they head into the bye week. Every member of this defense to a man will take that over fancy-sounding nickames and national recognition.

“We are out here trying to get these wins," Graham said. "That's all we focus on.”

Turns out, Alshon Jeffery was injured all season

AP Images

Turns out, Alshon Jeffery was injured all season

We all know about the myriad injuries the Eagles suffered on their way to the Super Bowl.

Nobody knew about this one.

Alshon Jeffery had surgery Wednesday morning to repair a torn rotator cuff that he played through all season, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Per Rapoport, Jeffery suffered the injury in training camp this past summer. We did know Jeffery suffered some sort of shoulder injury during the summer. Even after he returned, Doug Pederson remained very cautious with Jeffery. At the time, that seemed strange. Pederson just kept saying he held him out at his own discretion, even though it seemed like Jeffery and Carson Wentz needed time to build chemistry. All that seems to make more sense now.

Rotator cuff injuries can be especially difficult for wide receivers (over-the-head catches) and any skill player who gets tackled to the ground. In recent years, rotator cuff tears have either ended the season or caused multiweek absences for Eric Decker, Martellus Bennett and Plaxico Burress, among others. 

Jeffery's ability to play the whole season with a shoulder injury makes what he was able to do all the more impressive. He made a quick impact, catching two touchdowns and a two-point conversion in Weeks 1-4, then scored seven TDs from Weeks 8-14 before turning in a strong postseason.

Along the way, Jeffery earned a new contract that pays him $26.75 million guaranteed with a full value of $52 million. 

Safe to say that playing through pain worked out. How crazy is it to consider now that on Wentz's crucial Week 14 touchdown pass to Jeffery in L.A., the QB had a torn ACL and the receiver had a torn rotator cuff.

Jeffery confirmed the surgery via Instagram story on Wednesday afternoon.

Eagles Stay or Go — How about all the tight ends?

USA Today Images

Eagles Stay or Go — How about all the tight ends?

In the third part of 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. Today is Billy Brown to Vinny Curry.

Billy Brown
Roob: Don't be surprised if Brown makes the team next year. He's got good size at 6-4/255, and from what we've seen he has pretty good hands. We saw his catching ability at training camp last year, and he caught eight passes for 51 yards in the preseason. Brown spent the entire 2017 season on the practice squad, but with the future of both Trey Burton and Brent Celek up in the air, Brown may be able to secure a roster spot with a good training camp. I expect Burton to get an offer in the $7 million per year range if he hits the open market, which the Eagles most likely won't be able to match, and Celek could either retire or get released to save cap space. Brown could be the next guy up.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: After spending his entire rookie season on the Eagles' practice squad, Brown is going to have a pretty good shot to make the roster in 2017. Brown, who came from Shepherd University, was a training camp standout last summer. He's a converted wide receiver, so he has a good past as a receiving tight end. He has to prove himself, but the path to making the 53-man roster is there. 

Verdict: STAYS

Trey Burton
Burton has gone from an undrafted free agent long shot to make the roster in 2015 to one of the most attractive tight ends set to hit free agency this spring. With his soft hands, versatility and tremendous athleticism, Burton should be in line for a multi-year deal in the ballpark of $7 to $7.5 million per year. Even the Super Bowl touchdown pass speaks volumes about Burton and his ability to stay cool and composed and make a play under extreme pressure and in a situation he'd never been in as a pro. You'd love to be able to keep Burton, but Zach Ertz is the Eagles' tight end and they just don't have the cap space for the luxury of a high-priced backup.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Burton is no longer a secret. The Eagles actually tried to extend Burton during the 2016 season, but the two sides were never really close. Burton wanted to bet on himself and now that seems wise. He played the 2017 season on a relatively cheap deal after being a restricted free agent last offseason. But now he's unrestricted this time around and other teams are going to be interested. Burton had his best season in 2016, when he caught 37 passes for 327 yards, but he did have a career-high five touchdown catches in 2017. He's going to get paid more for his potential, though, and it's going to price out the Eagles. 

Verdict: GOES

Brent Celek
Roob: We continue Tight End Day with the 11-year veteran, one of the most popular Eagles of the past generation. Celek will one day be enshrined in the Eagles Hall of Fame, but now he's just another veteran with a $5 million cap figure that is just too high. Maybe Celek will help the Eagles avoid a major decision by retiring. Celek has plenty of interests outside football and he's 33 years old now and has a ring, and retirement may be attractive to him. Go out on top. Or maybe he'll take a massive pay cut down to the veteran's minimum and stick around another year and get the two yards he needs for 5,000. But I think it's most likely Celek won't be here next year. Whatever happens, he'll always be remembered as a champion.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is a tough one just because it's Celek. He embodies the city of Philadelphia better than anyone else on the team. He's also the longest-tenured athlete in the city. It's important to him to be a career Eagle, to never play for another team. But he just can't be back in 2018 on his current salary. It doesn't make good football or business sense. His cap number in 2018 is $5 million, which is just way too high for a reserve blocking tight end. It would be tough for the Eagles to flat out cut him, but if he doesn't want to retire and doesn't want to restructure down to nearly the minimum, that's what's going to have to happen. 

Verdict: GOES

Corey Clement
To go from an undrafted rookie free agent running back with virtually no history as a pass catcher to a 100-yard receiver in the Super Bowl in 10 months is just insane. Clement showed me enough that I believe he can be a lead back on this team. I think the plan will be to take a good long look at Jay Ajayi this coming season, with Ajayi and Clement splitting time, then decide after 2018 whether or not to keep Ajayi, who is due to become a free agent in another year. But under any scenario, Clement will be a major part of this team's running back corps for at least the next few years.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I was wrong about Clement last summer. I thought he was a good running back but there was nothing special about him. I thought Wendell Smallwood deserved to be ahead of him on the depth chart. Oops. Clement had an incredible rookie season. The most incredible thing was that he became a legitimate receiving threat out of the backfield, something he had never been in college or even in high school. He did everything the Eagles asked him to do in his rookie season and excelled at everything. He hasn't just earned a spot on the roster; he's earned the right to be a part of the running back rotation going forward. 

Verdict: STAYS

Fletcher Cox
I think Fletch might be around a while. Cox goes into his seventh season with the Eagles having made three straight Pro Bowls and is one of the most dominating interior linemen in the NFL. And he's under contract for the next five years. He stays. And will stay for the foreseeable future.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Sometimes we all sort of forget how good Cox really is. As an interior defensive lineman, Cox doesn't always make flashy plays. But just ask around the league about the Eagles' defense and everyone comes back with one guy on their mind: big No. 91. There's a reason he's become a perennial Pro Bowler and there's a reason he got a $100 million contract last offseason. He's the engine to the Eagles' defense and we saw him elevate his game even more in the run to the Super Bowl by barely leaving the field. This is stupid easy. 

Verdict: STAYS

Vinny Curry
Roob: Curry didn't really have the stat numbers to back it up, but he did play fairly well this year. He's got some massive cap numbers coming up — $11 million in 2018, $11.25 million in 2019 and $12.25 million in 2020. Those are astronomical figures for a guy who has nine sacks in his last 50 games. The Eagles could clear $5 million in cap space by releasing Curry, and that number goes up to $7.25 million next year and $10.25 million before the 2020 season. I think he stays this year, but those cap savings could be tempting for the cap-starved Eagles.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: After a down season in 2016, Curry became a starter and had the best year of his career in 2017. Some folks will argue against that because his sack numbers weren't shocking, but Curry was just tremendously solid as a rusher and against the run in 2017. He's a big reason why the Eagles' defensive line was their top unit and why their run defense was the best in the NFL. But his cap hit of $11 million is a killer this year and first-rounder Barnett is ready to start. I think if Curry is back, it'll be after reworking that deal. But for now ... 

Verdict: GOES