Eagles

Eagles have liked Jay Ajayi since August

Eagles have liked Jay Ajayi since August

The Eagles had a pretty close look at Jay Ajayi just a few months ago when the Dolphins were in town for joint practices in August. 

And they liked what they saw. 

"He's one of the guys that when we came back after those practices, we said, 'That's our kind of guy,'" Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said on Tuesday. "He's got the mentality that we're looking for. He brings the presence and he plays the kind of way we want to play and we want to represent our football team with and our fans with."

While Roseman said the Eagles didn't have a sense that Ajayi would be available for a trade just a couple months later, the Eagles did use those practices to scout the Dolphins. So they watched Ajayi, came away impressed and tucked that information away. 

They brought it back out on Monday when they began discussing a trade that would bring the running back to Philly. The move, which sends a fourth-rounder next year back to Miami, was completed on Tuesday.

While the Eagles were impressed with what they saw from Ajayi on the practice field in August, they couldn't possibly have seen inside the Miami locker room through the first seven games of this season. According to a report from the Miami Herald, Ajayi had become a chemistry problem, even storming out of the locker room after wins because he didn't get enough carries. 

For a team with a head coach who, as recently as Monday, was concerned about negatively affecting the chemistry of a 7-1 team with a new face, this could seem like a pretty big problem. 

But the Eagles did their homework, Roseman said, and came away feeling good about the move. 

"We weren't going to bring anyone here that would disrupt team chemistry," Roseman said. "We feel very confident and comfortable about the player."

A couple times on Tuesday, Roseman mentioned "trust" when talking about making deals with Miami. The Dolphins are run by Roseman's friend Mike Tannenbaum, and it was their close relationship that helped the Eagles make the move from 13 to 8 in the 2016 draft. 

So when the Eagles made the decision to go ahead with the trade on Tuesday, they probably leaned on the information they gathered from the Dolphins as well as their own talks with Ajayi, who they interviewed at the 2015 combine. Ajayi was a fifth-round pick out of Boise State. 

Another major question mark about Ajayi is his health. He has struggled with knee issues dating back to college and the pre-draft process, and those issues aren't past him. He has been listed on the Dolphins' injury report this season. As of Tuesday afternoon, Ajayi still needed to pass a physical. 

Even if Ajayi's knees don't make him a candidate to fill the void at running back for the long term, he can at least help the Eagles make a Super Bowl push over the next two seasons. He's just 24 — as Roseman eagerly pointed out a few times on Tuesday — and is cheap for the rest of this season and next. 

After a Pro Bowl season last year, Ajayi's 2017 hasn't gotten off to a great start. He's averaging just 3.37 yards per carry this year, the second-worst average among backs with at least 100 carries. Even taking the Dolphins' poor offensive line into account, there has been a pretty clear numbers drop for Ajayi this season with two pretty notable exceptions. 

"I think you look at the Chargers game and the Falcons game and you could argue he put the team on his back," Roseman said of Ajayi's two 100-yard rushing performances in 2017. "That was this season."

What the Eagles can hope is that he returns to the form that sent him to the Pro Bowl in 2016. He was great last season, rushing for over 1,200 yards and averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. He averaged 3.46 yards per attempt after contact. 

His yards after contact average from last year is actually better than his yards per attempt average through seven games in 2017. 

But if the Eagles can get the 2016 version of Ajayi, they got a steal. 

"This is a physical, downhill running back, he can run after contact, he can make people miss," Roseman said. 

Sure, adding a piece to a team that is already in control of the NFC East and is the frontrunner to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs is a risk. Chemistry is a real concern and it's why Doug Pederson seemed so hesitant on Monday. 

The Eagles are in a unique position at 7-1 and maybe acquiring Ajayi will help them get to the Super Bowl and bring the city its first major football championship in over half a century. For a fourth-round pick, the Eagles took that gamble. 

"I think you take into account where you are," Roseman said. "It's certainly different when you're 7-1 than if you're having a losing season. But at the same time, we're not going to do anything that puts us in a bad spot going forward. Again, a big part of this trade, this is a 24-year-old back that's not just on a one-year deal. But if there are opportunities to improve our team and improve where we're at, we have a responsibility to the people on the field, the people off the field, our fans, to evaluate everything."

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."