Eagles

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

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AP 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." 

Fletcher Cox puts Cowboys WR in his place

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AP Images

Fletcher Cox puts Cowboys WR in his place

The NFC East has been wrapped up for over a week so the Cowboys are no longer chasing the Eagles, but they're still watching them intently.

On Sunday at 4:25 p.m., just after the Eagles wrapped up an exciting-but-concerning 34-29 win over the Giants, Cowboys wide receiver Brice Butler tweeted out:

Two hours later, after Fletcher Cox had a chance to decompress from the win that clinched the Eagles a first-round bye, he responded.

Eagles players likely saw how the Cowboys' game unfolded as well. Dallas benefited on Sunday Night Football from that damn touchback rule, winning 20-17 after Raiders QB Derek Carr fumbled out of the end zone in the final minute.

The Eagles are 12-2; the Cowboys are 8-6. If the Falcons lose tonight to the Buccanneers, there will be a four-way tie for the final NFC playoff spot between Atlanta, Detroit, Seattle and Dallas. 

However, the Cowboys would currently lose the tiebreaker to the Lions and Seahawks.

The Eagles and Cowboys meet in Week 17 at the Linc in what should be Ezekiel Elliott's second game back from his six-game suspension.

Jay Ajayi no longer a secret weapon

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USA Today Images

Jay Ajayi no longer a secret weapon

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It's not much of a secret anymore. 

Jay Ajayi is the Eagles' top running back. 

And in Sunday's 34-29 win over the Giants, he began to separate himself even more. He had 89 total yards on 14 touches and was a threat on the ground and through the air.

"Yeah, I definitely feel that I was getting some good runs out there," Ajayi said. "Obviously, I would have loved to do a lot more on the ground, but what I was able to get, I think I was running pretty hard today."

Ajayi's numbers weren't staggering Sunday, but he was the best of the Eagles' four-man running back rotation. He had 49 yards on 12 carries and had two catches for 40 yards. The other three running backs combined had the same number of touches. 

For the past few weeks, Ajayi's role in the offense has grown and that doesn't look like it's slowing down anytime soon. By the time the playoffs get here, the Eagles' midseason acquisition should be really hitting his stride in his new offense. For as good as LeGarrette Blount has been, at times this season, he just doesn't seem to have the explosiveness the 24-year-old Pro Bowler does. 

Ajayi's playmaking ability really took center stage in the third quarter, when he ran for 22 yards and then caught a screen pass for 32 yards on the very next play. That set up a touchdown to put the Eagles up 31-23 a few plays later.

"I definitely feel on plays like that, it's good to feel like I'm doing good for the offense, getting in a rhythm," Ajayi said. "Obviously, I would have loved to finish in the end zone. So I just have to make sure I end in the end zone so I can put some points on the board in the RB room and get us some stats."

If Ajayi's looking for stats, how about these: He already has four runs of 20-plus yards this season. Blount, who has been with the team all year, has just seven. 

And in six games with the Eagles, Ajayi has 356 yards on 56 carries for an average of 6.4 yards. Ajayi's overall numbers aren't that good because of his time in Miami, but if only his Philly stats counted, he'd be among pretty exclusive company. There's only one running back in the league (Alvin Kamara) to average over 6.0 yards per carry with at least 50 attempts. 

Aside from his running ability, Ajayi enjoys the receiving aspect of playing in this offense. He might not be the most natural pass-catcher, but his 40 yards receiving was the second-highest total of his career. He'll get even more chances to catch the ball this season, especially if he's on the field for an increasing number of third downs.

Really, getting on the field on third down is all about trust from the coaching staff.

"Yeah, I've shown them that I'm keyed in on my protections and it's just about knowing what you're doing on third down," he said. "And that's what I've been trying to do throughout this time."

Ajayi prides himself on his physical condition. Even when he was the feature back in Miami, he prided himself on being fresh late in games and late in the season. He claims he would be fresh even if that was the case.

But the Eagles haven't asked him to carry the ball 20-plus times at all since he's been in Philly. After carrying the ball 260 times last year, he has just 194 carries this season and just 56 of those have come since the trade. Even if the Eagles ride him hard over the last two games of the season — which seems unlikely — he's going to have way fewer touches this year. 

"I feel good," Ajayi said. "I'm very diligent in my preparation, so whether I was getting a lot or a little, I would still feel good. But right now, I feel good."