Eagles

Eagles-Broncos thoughts: Don't overlook this struggling Denver team

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Eagles-Broncos thoughts: Don't overlook this struggling Denver team

Eagles-Broncos
1 p.m. on CBS
Eagles favored by 7.5

An underrated foe stands between the 7-1 Eagles and their bye week, as the 3-4 Broncos bring the NFL’s No.1 ranked defense to Lincoln Financial Field Sunday.

The Broncos are in the midst of a three-game losing streak and have made a change under center, naming Brock Osweiler starting quarterback this week. Yet this a team that’s only a season-and-a-half removed from a Super Bowl championship, with much of the core talent still in place.

They’re also desperate. The Broncos are quickly losing ground in AFC playoff races, and need this game to remain in the conversation.

The Eagles are riding a six-game winning streak and would love to carry that momentum into the bye, but it may not come as easy as some of their recent victories. Denver has the horses to make this competitive — potentially even pull off the upset.

Putting the ‘O’ back in Offense
If the Broncos are to have any shot at turning their season around, they need to fix their offense. Denver ranks second in the NFL with 17 turnovers in 2017 and has managed to average 12.2 points over the last five contests. Abysmal.

With Pro Bowl talents like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver, as well as C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles at running back, there’s no reason for it. That’s why the Broncos finally benched Trevor Siemian and handed the offense over to Osweiler.

Whether that helps anything remains to be seen. Osweiler is a career 59.8.-percent passer averaging 6.2 yards per attempt with 26 touchdowns to 22 interceptions in six pro seasons. He was traded by the Texans in March and cut by the Browns in September before finding his way back to Denver.

It’s worth reiterating the Broncos are desperate. This move is proof, but they have to try something to jump start this offense. Denver hasn’t scored more than 19 points since Week 2, while the Eagles haven’t scored fewer than 20 this season.

Force Osweiler to stay in his lane, and the rest should take care of itself.

Keeping the ‘D’ in Defense     
Then again, the Eagles haven’t been up against many defenses as strong this. Denver enters Week 9 ranked first in total yards allowed, second against the run, and fourth against the pass. The Broncos are No. 1 on third downs as well — an area the Eagles' offense has really excelled this season.

This unit has few if any weakness, yet the Broncos are surrendering 21 points per game, which is only 13th in the NFL. Some of that is a result of the offense’s inability to mount scoring drives or take care of the football, but opponents are avoiding the big mistakes as well.

Denver’s six takeaways are tied for 28th and just two more than the last place team. Ball security is always paramount, and against this defense is no different. Given the state of the Broncos' offense, stay patient, and they’re likely to give possession back sooner rather than later.

Not exactly a secret formula for success in the NFL. Easier said than done, too.

The Eagles must have a game plan for outside linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Aqib Talib in particular, either of whom can alter the course of a game in an instant. Miller has 21 forced fumbles in seven seasons, including playoffs, while Talib is fourth in NFL history with 10 interception returns for touchdowns.

How much work for Jay Ajayi?
One way to keep Denver’s D at bay is by running the football, even in the likely event it’s not working. It keeps the clock ticking, shortening the game while reducing the chances for turnovers in the process.

Naturally, that begs the question how much Ajayi will play — if he suits up at all — after the Eagles swung a trade for the Pro Bowl running back Tuesday. Early indications were Ajayi would be active against the Broncos, although as of Friday, coach Doug Pederson claimed to had not made a final decision.

Assuming Ajayi is in uniform, Pederson sounds intend on working his new weapon into the offense slowly.

“It's very limited — 10 to 15 plays,” Pederson said of Ajayi’s knowledge of the playbook. “I just want him to feel comfortable there, but it's a taste of a little bit of every aspect of the offense.”

It’s difficult to believe the Eagles wouldn’t have Ajayi active despite the reality his role could be relatively small. Against this defense, in particular, it makes sense to have another big body in the backfield to wear down a stout Broncos front.

A handful of carries — maybe in the four-to-eight range — should be enough to let Ajayi get his feet wet, not to mention help the Eagles execute their offensive game plan.

Wentz’s go-to receiver
If there is one vulnerability in this Broncos' defense, it’s been their ability to defend against tight ends. Last week, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce had seven receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown. Cowboys tight ends had 10 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown in their meeting, while Giants rookie Evan Engram racked up five catches for 82 yards and a score.

That bodes well quarterback Carson Wentz, who doesn’t mind throwing to his tight end at all.

With 43 receptions, 528 yards receiving and six touchdowns this season, Zach Ertz is among the NFL’s top three players — not just tight ends — in all three categories. He’s been the biggest weapon in the Eagles passing attack all season, and Sunday could've been his biggest game yet against this defense. Update: But Ertz is a surprise inactive with a hamstring injury. So much for that.

There won’t be a lot of room to run. The receivers will struggle to get open. Wentz won’t have a ton of time to stand in the pocket and survey the field. But Ertz was the offense’s one constant all season, and he would've been able to get open against this defense.

Now the Eagles are suddenly without Ertz, and what was a tough matchup to begin with now looks a little scarier.

Prediction
Eagles 25, Broncos 16

Eagles Milestones: Carson Wentz chasing all kinds of feats

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Eagles Milestones: Carson Wentz chasing all kinds of feats

As we move into Week 11, the Eagles continue to chase several notable milestones, both individually and as a team.

We take a look at Carson Wentz's ongoing streaks, record-setting run defense and Jake Elliott's scoring pace in this week's edition of Eagles Milestone Watch:

• Wentz leads the NFL with 23 touchdown passes on top of the 16 he threw last year. Wentz’s 39 TD passes so far are 19th most in NFL history by a quarterback in his first two seasons but only three out of 11th place. At his current pace, he’ll have 55 career TDs by the end of the year, which would be second most in NFL history after two years behind Dan Marino’s 68.

• The Eagles Sunday night will be seeking their eighth straight game with 100 or more rushing yards gained and fewer than 100 rushing yards allowed. That would be the fourth-longest streak in NFL history and the second-longest in the last 50 years, behind only the Steelers’ 10-game streak in 2001. 

• Elliott has scored 75 points in eight games and is on pace for 140 points in just 15 games this year. The NFL rookie scoring record is 150 points, set in 2014 by Eagles kicker Cody Parkey, who's now with the Dolphins.

• The Eagles have scored 26 or more points in seven straight games. If they score 26 against the Cowboys, they would set a franchise record with eighth consecutive games with at least 26 points and share the 14th-longest streak in NFL history.

• If Wentz throws a touchdown against the Cowboys, this would be his 12th straight game with a TD pass. That would be the third-longest streak in Eagles history, behind two Randall Cunningham streaks — 18 games over the 1987 and 1988 seasons and 13 games in 1990. If Wentz throws at least one TD and one or fewer interceptions, he would have 12 straight games with at least one TD and one or no INTs, which would be the 13th-longest streak in NFL history.

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Zach Ertz's blocking much improved

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Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Zach Ertz's blocking much improved

Zach Ertz's statistical growth is pretty easy to measure. 

In eight games this season, Ertz has 43 catches for 528 yards and six touchdowns. He leads the Eagles in every category and that's even after missing the Denver game with a hamstring injury before the bye. (He'll likely be back this week.)

It's a little harder to measure Ertz's growth as a blocker. But there has been a ton of growth since his arrival in Philadelphia in 2013. He has gone from being a liability as a blocker as a rookie to a decent blocker in a few years. 

How rare are truly complete tight ends? 

"Those guys are hard to find," Eagles tight ends coach Justin Peelle said last week. "Really, you gotta understand that tight ends, in general, are always going to give up size and strength, just because most of them are 250, 260, where most of the defensive ends they're blocking are upwards of 300 pounds. Then it comes down to technique and your strength and things like that. Those guys are really hard to find." 

Coming into the NFL, it was pretty clear Ertz had a ton of natural ability as a pass-catcher and that ability has shown itself. But as a blocker, things didn't come naturally.

It has taken years of work and emphasis from coaches and veteran Brent Celek, who is regarded as a really good blocking tight end. 

"That's always been something that's not his strength," Peele said. "He takes pride in it, he wants to be better. He doesn't want it to be a weakness but it was not a natural thing for him. We worked a lot on his technique, his hands, his understanding of the game. You have to consistently work on it and to his credit, he's embraced it and hasn't shied away from." 

Protect yourself 
The Eagles have allowed 54 quarterback hits this season, which places them 12th in the NFL. On all but one of them, Carson Wentz was the recipient. And Wentz takes some more hits out of the pocket. 

Wentz has been hit more than the Eagles have probably been comfortable with and he's been sacked 23 times. Sure, the offensive line gave up some of them, but Wentz deserves some blame too. There's a fine line between trying to gain extra yards and taking an unnecessary hit. 

Where's that line? 

"No. 1 is protect yourself, whether it's sliding, going down, getting out of bounds. That's the first thing," head coach Doug Pederson said. "I've said this before that unless it's the game-winner in the Super Bowl, protect yourself. That's the line." 

For the most part, Wentz has gotten better at protecting himself this season. There are still times, though, where he'll avoid pressure and leave his coaches and fans holding their breath. 

The conversation isn't going anywhere. 

"It's part of it. It's always a process," Wentz said. "We talk about it, shoot, it seems like every week. Just about where you can improve in every facet of the game and that comes up as well." 

North of the border 
Every once in a while, I take a look through CFL rosters just to see if there are some names I recognize. I'm aware this is unusual. 

But during my perusing, I happened to see plenty of former Eagles on CFL rosters. Some of these names you probably haven't heard for a while. 

Eskimos: Edmonton features two notable former Eagles. Yes, Aaron Grymes and Phillip Hunt are teammates. Grymes was a defensive back who was with the Eagles for the last two preseasons and came pretty close to making the team. After getting cut this year, he went back to the CFL, where he has been an All-Star. And remember Hunt? He was with the Eagles from 2011-13. He played 22 of his 24 career NFL games with the Eagles 

Blue Bombers: Chris Givens has landed with Winnipeg this season. He was Howie Roseman's cheap speed option before the 2016 season but was cut in August. He didn't have much of a role with the Blue Bombers this season, returning nine kicks for 184 yards. 

Tiger Cats: QB Everett Golson was never actually on the Eagles' roster but he did come in for a tryout with the Birds in 2016. The Notre Dame QB is a backup for Hamilton. He completed all four of his passes in 2017 for 25 yards. 

Alouettes: Montreal has a couple former Eagles receivers in T.J. Graham and B.J. Cunningham. Graham was with the Eagles in the 2016 offseason and Cunningham bounced around with the Eagles from 2012-14, playing in two games in 2013. Cunningham has actually become a really good CFL receiver. This season, he had 69 catches for 1,128 yards (8th in the CFL) and four touchdowns. 

Argonauts: Toronto is officially the old Eagles landing spot. Mitchell White, who was with the Eagles this offseason, is back in the CFL. He's there with former Eagles quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson and linebacker Akeem Jordan. Remember Jordan? He spent 2007-12 with the Eagles and played 82 games with 34 starts. Not bad for an undrafted rookie. Bethel-Thompson was actually the first QB Pederson brought in as head coach; he would later bring in one a little better. 

There are just four teams left in the CFL playoffs — the Roughriders play the Argonauts, while the Eskimos play the Stampeders. Winners go to the Grey Cup. 

Quote of the Week I: "If you want to live to see 75, you better shut your a** up." — Lane Johnson to his grandma, a Cowboys fan

Quote of the Week II: "Hey, Santander Bank? I need to make a deposit! A big deposit!" —Chris Long during Tim Jernigan's meeting with the media

Quote of the Week III: "Wentz be here early as hell. Every time I came scooting in on my scooter, Wentz ass be sittin' there in the locker. I'll be like 'damn, what time you get here?' Him and Nelson (Agholor). Nelson be here sweating, Nelson be doing JUGS and things like that." — Ronald Darby on getting to the facility at 5 a.m. to rehab

Random media guide note: Elijah Qualls was a drama major and after his football career is over, he is interested in acting or directing.