Eagles

Eagles-Cardinals: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Cardinals: Roob's 10 observations

BOX SCORE

Third-down insanity from Carson Wentz, strong stuff from the secondary, big touchdowns from Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith, Rodney McLeod's effort on a meaningless play and much more from the Eagles' third straight win — 34-7 over the Cards at the Linc (see breakdown).

Enjoy the 4-1 start and enjoy Roob's Observations!

1. I was thinking Sunday morning that, by any measure, the Eagles were the superior team and should blow out the Cards and that this was a game that would really show me how far the Eagles have come. I've seen signs the past few weeks that this group has really matured and really developed into something special. But lose to a bad Cards team at home and I knew I'd have to reevaluate. But I picked Eagles 30, Cards 10 because I just sensed that this team had grown to the point where, when faced with a clearly inferior opponent, they would pounce. And pounce they did to the tune of 21-0 after the first quarter, only the ninth time in franchise history they've led a game by 21 or more points after the first quarter. The Eagles showed me a lot Sunday. They got up early, then they pounded the Cards and finished them off. They're now 4-1 with three straight wins, and they've got to be mentioned in any conversation about the best teams in the NFC. You know what I like best about this team? They've been ravaged by injuries — from Darren Sproles to Fletcher Cox to McLeod and played much of the game Sunday without Lane Johnson — but you haven't heard one person in that locker room whine about it or try to use injuries as an excuse. This team is mature, it's serious-minded, it's together, it's driven. It's a beautiful thing to see.

2. Wentz's third-down work Sunday was astonishing (see report card). He was already among the best in the NFL coming into this weekend — his 107.2 passer rating before Sunday was sixth-best in the NFL. Then he went out and went 10 for 11 for 207 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions just on third down in the first three quarters Sunday, with nine of those 10 completions resulting in first downs. His third-down numbers now on the season: 36 for 51 for 573 yards, with six TDs, one INT and a passer rating of 138.8. Insane. This is a guy who ranked 28th in the NFL last year on third down. Wentz said when last year ended he wanted to focus on improving on third down, and his third-down numbers are now off the charts. Spectacular stuff.

3. Wentz was pretty good on the other downs, too. In fact, this was his best game as a pro. Other than one ill-advised interception deep in Cards territory just before halftime, Wentz was brilliant Sunday. He became the first Eagles QB with four TDs in a game since Nick Foles in Oakland back in 2013 and the first to do it here in Philly since Donovan McNabb against these same Arizona Cardinals on Thanksgiving Day in 2008. And Wentz hit the deep ball, becoming the first Eagle QB to throw two TDs of 50 yards or more in a game since McNabb had a 55-yarder to Correll Buckhalter and an 84-yarder to Donte Stallworth in a game against the Redskins in 2006. Wentz was 21 for 30 Sunday (70 percent) for 304 yards with four TDs and an INT. Five games in, Wentz has completed 62 percent of his passes with 10 TDs, three INTs and a passer rating of 97.7. This is your quarterback.

4. Let's talk the Eagles' secondary. The last three weeks, they've faced three quarterbacks who've combined to throw for more than 140,000 yards and nearly 1,000 touchdowns. Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer are all potential Hall of Famers. And it wasn't always pretty, but the Eagles got through that minefield of high-powered All-Pro quarterbacks with a spotless 3-0 record. Say what you will about the Eagles' secondary. They've given up some yards, given up some touchdowns. But out-manned, out-gunned, banged-up, young, inexperienced — they made the plays they had to each week against some pretty darned good QBs. And trust me, that would not have been the case the last eight years. Even Eagles killer Larry Fitzgerald was just another guy Sunday, with six catches for 51 harmless yards and nothing longer than 15 yards. Palmer threw 44 times Sunday but didn't have a single completion of 30 yards or more. Really strong stuff from this secondary.

5. One guy in particular who really stood out Sunday was Patrick Robinson, who was just making plays all over the place. His progress from struggling veteran in training camp to the Eagles' best cornerback right now has been so impressive. He just gets better and better. This is a 30-year-old guy who's with his fourth team in four years and who really I thought this summer was in jeopardy of being out of the league. But once he grew comfortable in Jim Schwartz's defense, he just started making plays, and Sunday he was the Eagles' best defensive player. Remarkable performance.

6. I wasn't crazy about Doug's play-calling late in the second quarter. I understand he loves being aggressive, and that's fine, but be smart too. You're up 21-7, you're already in field goal range, take the three points and be happy with a 24-7 halftime lead. That doesn't mean just run the ball, but run high-percentage stuff mixed in with the running game. Try to score but don't put the ball up for grabs. I'm big on momentum. Wentz's pass intended for Zach Ertz that Antoine Bethea picked off in the end zone really had very little chance of succeeding. As it turned out, Robinson bailed out the Eagles, blocking a Phil Dawson field-goal attempt just before halftime. But it never should have gotten to that point. There's a time to be aggressive. And a time to just be happy with a 24-7 lead.

7. Gotta give big props though to Pederson for running the ball in the second half once the Eagles built a big lead. Arizona is very good against the run. The Cardinals came in with the NFL's No. 10 rush defense and were allowing just 3.2 yards per carry and 88 rushing yards per game. But for the third straight week, Pederson showed a real commitment to the run. The backs had just 10 carries for 44 yards in the first half but had 16 carries for 114 yards in the second half, and that's the most success any team has had on the ground against the Cards this year. LeGarrette Blount, with just two carries for six yards in the first half, finished with 74 rushing yards on just 14 carries.

8. How about Kenjon Barner setting up a touchdown with a 76-yard punt return a week and a half after being out of work and living in Southern California hoping for another chance to play professional football? Barner is a veteran and knows how to take care of himself (he reported in tremendous shape) and despite not even being with a team the first few weeks of the season, he turned in a pivotal big play in that 21-point first quarter that got the Eagles going. The Eagles were down three running backs Sunday — injuries to Sproles, Donnel Pumphrey and Wendell Smallwood left Barner in a key role, and he responded with five carries for 23 yards rushing and three punt returns for 110 yards. Props to the Eagles' pro scouting staff for plucking Barner out of Orange County and to Duce Staley and Dave Fipp for getting him ready.

9. Great to see big contributions from Agholor and Smith. Agholor had the biggest game of his career, with four catches for 93 yards, including that career-long 72-yard touchdown, the longest TD catch by an Eagles wide receiver since Jordan Matthews' 78-yarder from Sam Bradford against the Cards two years ago. Agholor doesn't make that play last year, catching the ball and then putting some moves on a couple defenders on his way to the end zone. And Smith, who's been plagued by drops this year, finally showed what kind of player he is, with three catches for 70 yards, including a 59-yard TD of his own. On a quiet day from Alshon Jeffery (three catches for 31 yards), it was great to see Agholor and Smith pick up the slack.

10. You know what I flat-out love? McLeod's play to save a touchdown on what was a meaningless play late in the game. With the Eagles up 34-7 and Cards receiver J.J. Nelson about to score along the left sideline in the final seconds, McLeod ran across the field and blasted Nelson like inches before he hit the end zone. The ball came loose and bounced into and then out of the end zone, which makes it a touchback. McLeod could have easily given up on the play and nobody would have ever known. The Eagles would have won 34-14. But this is what I love about this team. McLeod didn't care about the score or how much time was left or what the situation was. He just made a play because he's programmed to make a play. He made a play because that's what he does.

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

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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.

Doug Pederson uncertain on Eagles' kickers heading into game vs. Bears

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Doug Pederson uncertain on Eagles' kickers heading into game vs. Bears

One kicker is getting better. One kicker just got hurt. One kicker isn’t even a kicker at all. Who’s going to kick Sunday? Maybe Caleb Sturgis, maybe Jake Elliott, maybe someone else. Definitely not Kamu Grungier-Hill. 
 
Does that clear everything up?
 
Head coach Doug Pederson revealed Monday that Elliott, the rocket-legged rookie, will be the Eagles’ placekicker long-term moving forward, but he also said he doesn’t know whether Elliott — who suffered a concussion Sunday night during the win in Dallas — will be available for this Sunday’s game at home against the Bears.
 
"We haven't made any decisions yet," Pederson said. "We still have a couple days before we have to make a decision."
 
Elliott replaced Sturgis, who suffered a quad strain in the opener against the Redskins and has been on injured reserve since. 
 
Ideally, the Eagles want Elliott to be cleared through the NFL’s concussion protocol and be able to kick Sunday so they can keep Sturgis on IR. 

If Elliott isn’t ready, they could activate Sturgis, who Pederson said is "close," but that would mean they would have to clear a spot on the 53-man roster for a guy who they don’t plan on keeping long-term. 
 
"He's continuing to rehab, he's begun a kicking regimen," Pederson said. "He's getting himself back to where he was prior to the injury. He's close. He's close."
 
If neither Elliott nor Sturgis is able to go, the Eagles could add a third kicker for a week or two, although that would also require keeping two kickers on the 53 (and another on IR).
 
"Again, you're talking about roster spots and making moves and things of that nature," he said. "We're not there yet. We'll continue these discussions the next couple days."
 
Most importantly, Pederson said despite Sturgis’ excellent track record since joining the Eagles, Elliott will be the team’s kicker once everybody is healthy. 
 
"I think so," Pederson said. "If he's healthy and he can play. You hate to disrupt that right now. I'd have to say yes to that one."
 
Sturgis is scheduled to be a free agent after the season. Elliott is under contract through 2018, and the Eagles control his rights through 2019.
 
Elliott, whom the Eagles signed off the Bengals’ practice squad in September, is 17 for 21 this year. He missed from 34 yards against the Cowboys Sunday night, although that miss came after he apparently suffered the concussion. 

Pederson said the concussion symptoms weren't discovered until after Elliott had attempted the field goal.
 
Elliott has made five of six attempts from 50 yards and out, including the franchise-record, game-winning 61-yarder against the Giants.
 
Sturgis is 7 for 11 as an Eagle from 50 yards and out. Including his years with the Dolphins, he's an 81.0 percent kicker, although with the Eagles he's made 84.8 percent of his field goal attempts — third-best in franchise history behind Cody Parkey (87.5 percent) and Alex Henery (86.0 percent).
 
"I think moving forward, as we continue to evaluate this week, we'll find out more in the next couple days with Jake, and I don't want to put myself in a box, but we'll keep all the options open," Pederson said.
 
"It kind of goes back to the same old thing. We still have a couple days here today and tomorrow to evaluate Jake and see where everybody's at. There's still a little while before we play Sunday."
 
There's one other option.

No, not letting Grugier-Hill kick. Going for two all the time.
 
Pederson — who's 9 for 12 as Eagles head coach on two-point conversion attempts — admitted he's thought about it.
 
"Yeah, I have," he said. "You always go into a game with a few (plays) in your pocket. You never expect that situation again like we had last night. But, yeah, you look at the numbers. If you're around 94, 95 percent on the extra point from the 15-yard line, your conversion rate should be in that 47, 48, 49 percent on a two-point conversion. So we look at all of that.
 
"We keep a couple extra plus-five red zone plays in our pocket for that situation. It just worked out, I think 3 for 4 last night. It's something we'll look at going forward."