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 aim to master late 1st-round picks

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Eagles aim to master late 1st-round picks

The Eagles will be at a disadvantage on April 26, when the first round of the 2018 draft begins in Dallas. Thanks to winning the Super Bowl — remember that? It wasn’t a dream — they have the 32nd and last pick of the first round. 

It’s a disadvantage they hope to have every year. 

“Yeah, that’s the goal,” Eagles VP of player personnel Joe Douglas said on Thursday. “Hopefully we’ll be picking in the late 20s and early 30s [every year].” 

There’s an art to hitting in the second half of the first round and it’s obviously harder to find success there than it is in the top half. The good news for the Eagles is that Douglas learned under Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome, who is one of the best general managers in the NFL. Newsome’s team has often picked late in the first round and he’s often been able to find some great talent in that range. 

Ed Reed was picked at No. 24, Todd Heap at 31, Ben Grubbs at 29. There are more too. 

“Ozzie is patient,” Douglas said. “Ozzie Newsome is a Hall of Famer for the Cleveland Browns and he should be a Hall of Famer for the Baltimore Ravens as a GM. He’s the absolute best. His first two picks (Reed and Terrell Suggs) are first-ballot Hall of Famers. He was able to have great success in the 20s. Those players you specifically named, they were not a move up or move down guys. Those were guys that Ozzie was patient and he let the board come to him. Some of those picks were met with greater fanfare than others.”

They can’t all be hits, of course. In 2013, the Ravens took safety Matt Elam, who played in 41 games for Baltimore in three seasons, but was out of the league by 2017. Many consider him a bust. It happens. But it’s hard to argue with the Ravens’ body of work. 

The Eagles haven’t been nearly as consistent picking in the 20s in recent years. Nelson Agholor was No. 20 in 2015 and finally fulfilled his potential last season. But before then, Marcus Smith was 26 in 2014 and Danny Watkins was 23 in 2011. The last time the Eagles came off a Super Bowl appearance, they picked DT Mike Patterson with the 31st pick in 2005. A decent player, never a star. 

Douglas thought there were a lot of hits late in the first round of last year’s draft, but admitted it “varies year to year.” 

For now, the Eagles own the 32nd pick, but they’re definitely not ruling out a possible trade. On Thursday, de facto GM Howie Roseman said the team is “open for business.” 

There’s also plenty of appeal for other teams who might want a specific position with No. 32 because of a possible fifth-year option in their contracts. A few years ago, the Vikings traded for No. 32 to get Teddy Bridgewater. This week, the groundwork for possible draft day trades will happen, Roseman said. The Eagles will have contact with other teams to gauge their interest in moving up or down around their area of the first round. 

If the Eagles don’t move up or down, they feel comfortable at 32. 

“I guess when you’re picking, any number you’re picking, whether it’s 14 last year or 32, you’ve got to have 32 guys to be excited to take,” Douglas said. “Right now, we have 32 guys we’d be fired up to get. How it plays out, we’ll find out.”

Coming off first Super Bowl win, Eagles aim to crush complacency

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Coming off first Super Bowl win, Eagles aim to crush complacency

The Eagles on Monday released a short video montage of players returning to the NovaCare Complex for the start of the team’s offseason workout program, the first time the team has been back together since winning Super Bowl LII. 

Playing over the video is a snippet from Doug Pederson’s speech to the team, in which he talks about sacrifice and starting over at ground zero. 

The 30-second video then ends with a shot of the Eagles’ new Super Bowl champion banner hanging in the weight room, while Pederson delivers the message, “The new normal starts today.” 

The Eagles have finally won a Super Bowl, so now what? 

Well, now they have to battle complacency on their quest to make a parade down Broad Street an annual occurrence. 

“For me, when I hear the ‘new norm,’ I’m not thinking about the end result, the championships and the parades and all that,” veteran leader Malcolm Jenkins said on Tuesday. “I’m thinking about the work it took to get to where we were. How we started last year in April and grinded and competed throughout. For me, that’s kind of the new norm and the standard and the base that we’re trying to start from this year as we try to defend that title.” 

Unlike many of his teammates, this isn’t the first time Jenkins is coming off a championship. The year after his Saints won the Super Bowl during his rookie season, they were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round. 

Being that this isn’t the first time Jenkins is in this situation, he said he knows some of the “pitfalls” that come with trying to avoid the Super Bowl hangover. Aside from the obvious month less of recovery time, the Eagles also need to shift their mindset from celebration back to work. Jenkins doesn’t think that will be a problem. He thinks teams get their attitude from leaders. He thinks these Eagles want to “create something special.” He thinks they know how to do it. 

One thing that should help is getting back several key players who weren’t able to play in last year’s Super Bowl because of injuries. Their drive will be there. 

“I know for myself and (Jordan) Hicks and (Chris) Maragos, Jason Peters, it didn’t sit well with them either,” Carson Wentz said. “As much as we love our teammates and we were excited to see it, we wanted to be out there. We know that will kick things into gear. I don’t think complacency would have been an issue regardless, but I think that will definitely help.”

Jenkins this week didn’t want to even talk about repeating yet because there’s so long to go before we even know what the team will look like. 

But repeating remains the ultimate goal.  

“We’re extremely hungry for sustained success in this city,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “We’ve tasted it one time and that’s something you never want to give up. We’re hungry to repeat. … I don’t think we’ll ever have that mindset that we’ve arrived as a football team or as a city.”