Eagles

Eagles hint at keeping Jake Elliott over Caleb Sturgis

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Eagles hint at keeping Jake Elliott over Caleb Sturgis

With Caleb Sturgis eligible to come off of injured reserve next week, the Eagles have given no indication that Jake Elliott’s job might be in jeopardy.

Elliott has been far from perfect of late, missing at least one field goal or extra point in each of the Eagles’ last three games. And while those kicks haven’t come back to haunt the team yet, it’s fair to wonder whether turning back to Sturgis might be an option.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Monday the club is “comfortable” with Elliott, but “nothing has been decided” with regard to Sturgis. “We'll just have to cross that bridge when we get there.”

We’re just about at the bridge. Time to decide.

As of Tuesday, the Eagles seemed prepared to work through the issues with Elliott.

“I tend to be more of an optimist,” said Eagles special team coach Dave Fipp, adding it’s easy to be critical. “If you’re willing as a coach or a person to accept some responsibility, and try to invest and work on finding a solution, you have a whole better chance.

“I believe the best in a guy, and that’s just the way I choose to look at it, but I believe the guy is going to overcome. He’s going to have success and be a great player."

In his second NFL game, Elliott delivered an Eagles victory over the Giants with a walk-off 61-yard field goal — the longest in franchise history. Up until that moment, however, the rookie kicker had been unreliable, missing one field goal in each of his first two contests.

Although, some initial jitters were probably to be expected. Signed off the Bengals' practice squad in September, Elliott joined the Eagles on a Tuesday and was kicking in a game on Sunday.

“It’s a tough transition to come in on a week’s notice and have a new snapper, a new holder and a kicker, and then do it on game day,” Fipp said. “And you can only practice so much during the week. Usually, these guys kick twice a week, so you have two days to get it in.”

Elliott settled in after the Giants game and was flawless on field goals and extra points over the next three. Even with the recent miscues, he’s made 17 of 20 field goals and 24 of 27 extra points for the season, and he set another Eagles record with four field goals of 50-plus yards in a season.

As far as Elliott’s recent struggles are concerned, those might not be as much of a factor in the Eagles’ decision as one would think. To begin with, another aspect of the battery could be at fault —maybe the hold, or the snap, based on an unconfirmed report the Eagles worked out long snappers this week.

Whatever the case, Fipp preached patience with the 22-year-old.

“The worst thing you can do with any kicker is overreact,” Fipp said. “If you’re always looking to replace that position, then you’re going to always be replacing that position.

“I think there are some coaches out there who are quick to get rid of the guy that they have, and I would say that you just have to make a smart decision. Take a step back, and make sure you’re making the best decision.

“Usually when you bring the guy in, you brought him in because he was the best player. Then if you get rid of him, now you’re saying you’re going to go with the second-best player? That never made a whole lot of sense to me.”

Of course, Fipp’s salient logic on kickers could easily apply to Sturgis as well.

Sturgis came to the Eagles in 2015 in much the same way as Elliott, as a midseason replacement. And like Elliott, Sturgis got off to a shaky start with the Eagles, but finished strong and won the competition for the job in training camp the following summer.

Last season, Sturgis made 35 of 41 field goals and 30 of 31 extra points. He was 3 for 3 on field goals and 1 for 2 with extra points in the 2017 opener, as well.

If Elliott wasn’t cutting it, the Eagles would be more than justified in giving Sturgis another shot.

“There’s certain standards that they have to perform up to, then you have to move on,” Fipp said. “But they all know that.”

Based on statistics alone, the comparison seems close. In reality, Elliott has a lot more working in his favor.

Elliott is six years younger than Sturgis, who as a five-year veteran, also commands a much larger salary. And while Sturgis was once a fifth-round draft pick, the same as Elliott, his NFL career as a whole has not been a model of consistency.

All signs point to the Eagles' sticking with Elliott, and it should be a slam dunk. But with Sturgis likely to wind up a free agent in a matter of days — it shouldn’t be long before he finds a new job — you can bet every and any Elliott slip-up will only draw more attention moving forward.

What you need to know for Eagles-Vikings tailgate

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What you need to know for Eagles-Vikings tailgate

Several parking lots outside the Linc will open as early as 11:30 a.m. Sunday for fans who require extra time preparing for kickoff for the NFC Championship Game.

The Wells Fargo Center lots as well as the M and N lots — located just east of the stadium — and the P lot, next to Citizens Bank Park, are scheduled to open at 11:30 a.m., the Eagles announced.

The Linc's K lot, just north of the stadium, will open at 1 p.m.

The Citizens Bank Park lots are scheduled to open at 3 p.m.

Gates to the Head House Plaza open at 3:30 p.m. and the inner gates to the stadium open at 4:30 p.m. Located on the north end of the stadium, The Head House Plaza offers outdoor bars, food stands, live music and numerous other pregame activities for fans arriving early. It also includes an entrance to the Eagles Pro Shop.

The Eagles and Vikings kick off the NFC Championship Game at 6:40 p.m.

Eagles-Vikings NFC Championship Game predictions

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Eagles-Vikings NFC Championship Game predictions

Another week, another game with the Eagles being the underdog.

After a dominant defensive performance in a 15-10 win over the Falcons in the divisional round, the Eagles will welcome the No. 2 seed Vikings to the Linc for the NFC Championship Game (6:40 p.m. on FOX).

Despite the Eagles being the No. 1 seed and having home-field advantage, Minnesota is the favorite to advance and play the Super Bowl on their home field in Minneapolis.

Our analysts all had the Birds winning last week. This week, we’ll see who has the Eagles advancing to Super Bowl LII.

Reuben Frank (15-2)
Two great defenses blah blah blah. Underdogs blah blah blah. Carson Wentz got hurt blah blah blah. Forget all the storylines you've heard this week, and say these 16 words out loud with me: "Case Keenum is not going to come into the Linc and win the NFC Championship Game." OK, LOUDER: "CASE KEENUM IS NOT GOING TO COME INTO THE LINC AND WIN THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME." Maybe I'd feel differently if the Vikings were home or if a future Hall of Famer like Drew Brees were coming to town, but you're talking about a relatively inexperienced quarterback who plays his home games in a dome coming into South Philadelphia and dealing with crowd noise, changing weather, a hostile environment and a ferocious defense that's allowed five touchdowns and 9.2 points per game in its last six home games. I don't think Case Keenum can handle what he's about to face Sunday afternoon. I think we're all headed to Minneapolis. 

Eagles 18, Vikings 9

Dave Zangaro (14-3)
I never thought this day would come, if I'm being honest. If you told me in the summer the Eagles were going to be in the NFC Championship Game, I wouldn't have believed you. 

If you would have told me they were going to be in the NFC Championship Game without Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, Darren Sproles, Chris Maragos and Caleb Sturgis, I would have told you that you were crazy. 

Now, I'm the crazy one. Because despite all of that and despite the Eagles' technically being the underdogs in this game, I think they're going to win it. 

Had the Saints won last Sunday, I probably wouldn't think that. The thought of Brees coming to town would have been enough for me to pick against the Birds. But then the Minnesota Miracle happened and as great as it was for the Vikings, it could end up being great for the Eagles too. 

Sure, the Vikings are a really good team and maybe they have the best statistical defense in the league and maybe Case Keenum will never come back to Earth. But the Eagles have a pretty good defense too, a good defense that's even better at home. Nick Foles doesn't need to be Wentz, but he will need to make some big-time throws Sunday; I think he does. I think the defense clamps down at home. I think this improbable run somehow keeps going. 

I think the Eagles are going to the Super Bowl. 

Eagles 18, Vikings 13

Derrick Gunn (14-3)
These two teams mirror each other so much. Both are guided by quarterbacks who were backups on their depth charts when this long journey began. Both have defenses that can clamp down on opposing offenses. Both with identical records. And both have never won a Super Bowl (Vikings 0-4, Eagles 0-2). 

For Foles, it's imperative that he stays within himself. Stick to the short, high-percentage passing game and hopefully get some much-needed help from the run game. 

Against the Falcons, the Eagles had 49 yards rushing in the opening quarter but only 47 the rest of the game against Atlanta's ninth-ranked run defense. 

Minnesota's defense is ranked No. 1 overall, No. 2 against the run, No. 2 against the pass and No. 1 in points allowed. 

The Eagles' defensive front has to get to Keenum before he can find Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Both are excellent route runners with exceptional hands. What a matchup up this is. Pat Shurmur's offense against Jim Schwartz's defense. 

I've gone back and forth all week on who will win this game in what could be your basic backyard brawl. So what I came up with is this: In the final seconds of the game, the Eagles will be down one point when Jake Elliott gets the call and nails a 50-yarder as time expires. Eagles win and dance their way to the Super Bowl.

Eagles 23, Vikings 21

Ray Didinger (15-2)
Offenses are scoring at a record pace and yardage totals keep mounting. The typical NFL Sunday is all about the point totals climbing and fantasy owners cashing in. But now we're in the post-season and this is when the defense flexes its muscles. This is when scores go down and hitting picks up.

When the Eagles and Vikings meet for the NFC championship, it will be all about defense. The Vikings allowed the fewest points (15.8 per game) and fewest yards (276 per game) during the regular season. The Eagles allowed the fewest yards rushing (79 per game) and allowed just 26 points in the last three games, including the 15-10 win over Atlanta in the divisional playoff.

The Vikings had the best defense in the league on third down allowing 25.2 percent conversions. The Eagles defense was equally stingy at home (26.6 percent). The key to winning this game on the offensive side will be avoiding negative plays. A sack, a penalty, anything that creates a third-and-long situation will kill a drive. A five-yard run will be a big play in this game.

I think the Eagles pressure will eventually get to Keenum and that will be the difference.

Eagles 16, Vikings 13

Andrew Kulp (14-3)
The Vikings are a vastly better team than the Falcons in 2017-18, so I'm not sure I quite understand the confidence in the Eagles locally. Nonetheless, I tend to agree with the notion that it's hard to pick Keenum at Lincoln Financial Field in the NFC Championship.

Home-field has and will continue to be a big advantage for the Eagles. The crowd will rattle Keenum the way it did Matt Ryan last week, while simultaneously allowing Foles and the Birds' offense to communicate protection calls against the Vikings' exotic pressure packages.

Compare the two rosters side by side, and they're relatively close in terms of talent. It's pretty much a coin flip. The fans are what move the needle here. Plus, the way this entire season has gone, how can anybody around here possibly pick against the Eagles?

Eagles 26, Vikings 17

Corey Seidman (12-4)
Equal QBs. Eagles have the run game advantage. Vikings have the better WR group. Eagles have the better TEs and offensive line. Vikings have the better secondary. 

This one feels like an extremely close game. But with homefield advantage and a better kicker, I’m 52 percent confident the Eagles pull it out and advance to the Super Bowl. 

(Wouldn’t it be the most Philly thing ever, though, if the Jaguars upset the Patriots, Eagles fans go crazy, and then the Birds lose?) 

Eagles 13, Vikings 10