Eagles

Eagles-49ers: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-49ers: Roob's 10 observations

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There are no trap games with this team. No looking past anybody. No letting the conditions or the refs or long road trips affect them.

They just win football games.

The Eagles reached the midway point of the season 7-1 Sunday, and how much fun is this? Seriously! The best team in the NFL plays in South Philly! 

An elite quarterback and a world-class defense have carried the Eagles to six wins in a row, and on a rainy Sunday at the Linc, they did what they had to, demolishing the 49ers 33-10 (see breakdown).

It was a fun Sunday, so let's make this a fun Roob's 10 observations!

1. Really encouraging to see the Eagles win a football game on a day when Carson Wentz wasn't at his best (see report card). Wentz missed people he usually hits, threw an interception, took sacks when he held onto the ball too long and generally just wasn't quite the same Wentz we've seen so far this year, although he did throw two TD passes. But the defense allowed only one short-field TD, the secondary didn't allow any big plays and got in the end zone, special teams got another Jake Elliott 50-yard field goal and a blocked field goal and everybody on the roster kind of made up for Wentz's average-for-him day (see story). That's the sign of a great team.

2. Another sign of a great team is one that answers when it has to. Wentz's interception and the 49ers' third-quarter touchdown made it a 20-7 game, the Eagles were coming off three straight 3-and-outs, and the crowd at the Linc was getting a little antsy. But it took the offense only three plays to get the lead back up to 20 — notably Corey Clement's career-long 22-yard run and Wentz's 53-yard TD pass to Alshon Jeffery. Every team, no matter how talented, no matter how successful, is going to face adversity. This team really seems to know how to bounce back from it in a huge way.

3. Speaking of Clement, I'd really like to see more of both him and Wendell Smallwood. LeGarrette Blount has not been quite as productive the last two games as he was in the previous five games, and I really like what Clement and Smallwood bring to the table as change-of-pace backs. Blount was 14 for 29 against the Redskins and 16 for 48 Sunday against the 49ers, a combined 2.6 yards per carry the last two weeks. Clement finally got involved at the end of the game and ran the ball hard and productively (see rookie report). Let's get back to sharing the load.

4. Loved the deep ball to Alshon Jeffery. I've been disappointed in Jeffery's inability to go up and use his 6-foot-3 frame and his long arms and secure 50-50 balls, but he finally did that in the third quarter, going high up over rookie corner Ahkello Witherspoon and catching a deep ball from Wentz and then fighting Witherspoon off and jogging into the end zone with his longest TD catch in an Eagles uniform. That's why the Eagles signed Jeffery. And that's what he has to keep doing.

5. Speaking of deep balls, Wentz continues to show that it's a strength of his and not a weakness. Wentz has now thrown five TDs of 50 yards or more, which is just one shy of the franchise record for an entire season. In fact, only four quarterbacks in NFL history have had more 50-yard TD passes through eight games. Wentz has the arm strength and the touch, and now he has the receivers to go get those balls. Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, Torrey Smith, Mack Hollins and Jeffery all have receptions of 50 yards or more. Those plays just take the life out of defenses. The deep ball has become such a big-time weapon for this team, and it's not going away.

6. Doug Pederson deserves so much credit for getting this team ready to play every single week. The one loss was on the road by seven points to a team that goes into Sunday night 5-2. Ever since that three-game stretch last year with the Seahawks, Bengals and Packers, this team has been competitive and prepared every single game, and that just speaks volumes about Pederson and his handle on his players.

7. Jalen Mills has been so solid this year, and it was great to see him get into the end zone after picking off C.J. Beathard. With the offense sputtering and the Eagles clinging to a 10-3 lead, that was a play the Eagles really needed to open up some breathing room. Mills' spiraling 37-yard TD return increased the lead to 17-3 when not a lot was going well. Mills has quietly had a consistent, productive season this year, and since he's been here longer than all the other cornerbacks, it's easy to forget he's only 23 (see story ). Mills is proof that you don't need world-class speed to be a big-time NFL cornerback. He's tough, smart, physical, confident and fearless. With 21-year-old Rasul Douglas playing well, 21-year-old Sidney Jones waiting in the wings and 23-year-old Ronald Darby also in the mix, this is an extremely promising young group of cornerbacks.

8. Fletcher Cox has been playing at such a high level for so long it's easy to forget just how dominating he is. He just destroys people. I really think he deserves to be mentioned up there with the great defensive linemen in Eagles history — Reggie, Clyde, Jerome, Hugh. He did pick up a sack Sunday, giving him 4½ this year and 33½ in his career. But it's what he does play after play after play. The power and athleticism that he combines to win matchups on the line of scrimmage really make this an elite defensive line. He's so much fun to watch.

9. It's really something to see Mychal Kendricks playing at such a high level. Kendricks, inexplicably in Jim Schwartz's doghouse for most of the last two years, has to play now, with Jordan Hicks out, and he responded with a monster game Sunday —seven tackles, a sack, two quarterback hurries and a pass knockdown. If Kendricks can stay healthy, he really makes Hicks' absence a lot easier to handle.

10. I love how the fans give Brent Celek a huge ovation every time he catches the ball. It doesn't happen very often anymore. Celek, now in his 11th year with the Eagles, had a 14-yard catch Sunday on the Eagles' fourth-quarter touchdown drive and is 4 for 33 this year. But he's had a fantastic career and is still a big part of this team, and it's heartening to see the fans appreciate him. Totally deserving. 

Eagles DE Derek Barnett wreaking havoc as sacks starting to pile up

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USA Today Images

Eagles DE Derek Barnett wreaking havoc as sacks starting to pile up

With each passing game, it's starting to become clearer and clearer why the Eagles used their first-round pick on Derek Barnett. 

The rookie defensive end is beginning to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. 

"This guy is very disruptive, explosive," head coach Doug Pederson said. "He's another one of those unselfish guys. He just wants to win and do whatever he can to help the team win."

Barnett, the 14th overall pick in April's draft, had two sacks and a forced fumble in the Eagles' 37-9 win Sunday night over the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. 

In addition to Barnett's two sacks (he forced a fumble on one), he also applied pressure and hit quarterback Dak Prescott on two of his three interceptions. 

It seemed like Sunday was probably Barnett's best NFL game so far. The 21-year-old humbly didn't go along with that assessment. 

"I think I did some good things, but I need to do a better job in the run game," Barnett said. "I didn't do that well in the run game. At the end of the day, we won. That's all that matters. We got a victory and let's all go back to Philly." 

After failing to record a sack in his first five NFL games, Barnett now has 4.5 in his last five games. He is second among all NFL rookies in sacks this season. 

He's already eighth on the Eagles' rookie sack list and could move up that list quickly. Two more sacks would put him third behind just Reggie White (13) and Corey Simon (9.5). 

Sacks sometimes come in bunches. 

"I just think they're coming now," Pederson said. "I think he's getting comfortable in the role. He's developing. He's understanding the game. He studies tackles, he studies his opponent. He's developed a couple of different moves. It's just his willingness. It just clicks for any player. They start to come. I love where he's at right now too." 

Even before the sacks started coming, Barnett was quietly getting pressure. Now, he's getting pressure and finishing the plays. 

Barnett played 51 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps Sunday and is closing on the 50 percent mark on the season. While he hasn't been widely talked about as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, he could make a case quickly if these numbers keep piling up. 

More importantly, he could offer the Eagles a dangerous pass-rusher as they make their way down the stretch and into the playoffs.

And he's doing it with the same traits that made him attractive to the Eagles in the first place. 

Remember just after he was drafted, when vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas raved about Barnett's "excellent" ankle flexion? 

Well, check out Barnett's bend on his fourth-quarter strip sack: 


 

He bent around the left tackle and came at Prescott horizontally. 

He did it earlier in the game on the Rodney McLeod interception: 

 

And remember how much everyone praised his high motor and compete level? 

Check out his first-half sack. He willed his way to a sack and wouldn't let Prescott escape. 

Sunday was Barnett's second career two-sack game; they came less than a month apart. And it looks like there are plenty more sacks in his future. 

"They're starting to come in slowly but surely," Barnett said. "Everybody says to pass rush, you have to keep on rushing. You can't get down. You're going to be in your little slumps and stuff. You have to keep on grinding through it. It's eventually going to break." 

Why Eagles' play in trenches is behind 8-game win streak

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USA Today Images

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.