Eagles

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Carson Wentz is a giant faker

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Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Carson Wentz is a giant faker

Looking at the stat sheets can give a decent idea of how Carson Wentz is performing this season. 

It's just not the only way. 

The Eagles care about stats, sure. But they also care about the details that don't show up in the stat sheets. For example, the team even grades Wentz on his ability to carry through a fake after he hands the ball off. 

How good is he at it? 

"He carries out his fakes better than anybody I've ever seen," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "I think that helps us. You don't notice it a lot of times but it's those little things; the cumulative effect of those things, so that if we run play action, so that if he ever keeps something off of that. He takes a lot of pride, and it's one of the things that I think has helped him develop. 

"He works very hard and he doesn't take plays off in practice. I've never seen a quarterback carry out fakes like he carries out fakes and how serious he takes his ball handling and every aspect of it. It's excellent."

Carrying through his fakes isn't an area where Wentz has gotten better from Year 1 to 2. In fact, he said he developed the skill while in college, playing in North Dakota State's pro style offense. So he's always been pretty good at it. 

Wentz said he has always liked to see how defenses react. Fakes go both ways. He can carry through a fake after a handoff, but perhaps more importantly, he can fake the handoff into a naked bootleg. 

"Anything like that, any little thing that's going to help the play or give us an extra spilt second to get a backside cutoff block or something like that," Wentz said, "those are big things that I think … and I'm not the only one who does that. Everyone goes the extra mile to help their guys out. It's definitely a satisfaction you see when someone does have to honor that."

Let's get situational 
If you're looking for an area Wentz has greatly improved from Year 1 to Year 2, how about situational football? 

Four games into the 2017 season, Wentz has thrived in some important parts of the game, specifically on third downs. 

"In the development of becoming an elite franchise quarterback, that's something we've talked to him about from the start: really what sets you apart as a quarterback is how you perform in situational football," Reich said. "That's third down and red zone. Then what kind of a knack do you have of making big plays on first and second down? That's really what separates those elite players.

"And so becoming a playmaker on third down and in the red zone is a big part of any quarterback's development. I think he takes a lot of pride in that. I think he knows that. I think he studies it a lot. I think he has a lot of confidence in the players he's throwing to."

So how well is Wentz performing on third and fourth downs? 

Yeah, that's not bad. 

Overall this season, the Eagles have converted on 50.8 percent of their third-down situations, good for second in the league. For perspective's sake, they were 20th in the league in 2016 at 37.9 percent. 

"That, going back even to training camp, I remember you guys were always asking on the biggest thing I was focusing on and it was situational football," Wentz said. "And that comes from talking to Coach Reich, Coach (Doug) Pederson, Coach (John) DeFilippo. They were always harping that. Going back last year, watching the tape and just discussing, ‘alright, if this was the situation, what would you have done differently?' And those are things that I really took to heart, really focused in on."

While Wentz has greatly improved on third and fourth downs, there is still room to grow in the red zone. Through four games this season, Wentz has completed 9 of 17 passes (52.94 percent) for 60 yards and five touchdowns in the red zone. 

Wentz's completion percentage in the red zone is 14th in the NFL. At 55.56 percent, Wentz is slightly better inside the 10. 

Clement time
The Eagles will likely be without Wendell Smallwood (knee) this week against the Cardinals. That leaves just two of their original five running backs — LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement — healthy for Sunday's game. 

After Darren Sproles went down, Smallwood assumed most of the team's third-down duties, but now he's out. So Clement might be the next guy up in those situations. 

"It's just the nature of the game," Clement said. "Some guys go down, some guys have great opportunities in front of them. It's about what I can do to better prepare myself for this game Sunday."

As a third-down back, Clement needs to be able to pass protect as well as catch the ball out of the backfield. Those are two areas he has worked to improve since his arrival as an undrafted free agent this spring. 

While catching the ball is important, the most important thing on third downs, especially for a rookie, is pass protection. The Eagles can't put Clement on the field to block if they're worried Wentz is going to get his head knocked off. Pederson said Clement has been "improving" as a blocker thanks to work with running backs coach Duce Staley. 

Clement credited Staley, along with Pederson, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and his elder teammates — Blount, Sproles and Smallwood — for helping him. 

Getting back to Destiny
The Eagles might get back second-year DT Destiny Vaeao this week. That could be a nice boost for a team that's without Fletcher Cox again. 

Vaeao hurt his right wrist during the opener in Washington and has missed the last three weeks. That was a shame for Vaeao, who had a tremendous training camp, according to the coaching staff. 

"It's tough," Vaeao said about missing time. "Every Sunday that passed by, it hurts not playing. You just have to be patient and everything will come."

Quote of the Week I: "The whole (offensive) line is playing unbelievable right now. They're playing kind of pissed off. They just have an attitude about them, which is awesome to see." — Carson Wentz 

Quote of the Week II: "Hey, there's Bruce Arians!" — Brandon Graham, spotting FanRag reporter John McMullen on the sideline at practice wearing a Kangol hat

Quote of the Week III: "I thought I should have not tried to stiff arm him and just ran straight and I would have scored." — Blount's thoughts after he went back and watched his career-long 68-yard run against the Chargers.  

Random media guide note: If Rodney McLeod could be any superhero, he'd be Batman. 

Facing misconduct investigation, Panthers owner selling team

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Facing misconduct investigation, Panthers owner selling team

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Facing a growing investigation that accuses him of sexual misconduct and using racist language at work, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson announced Sunday that he will sell the NFL team after the season.

The team announced on Twitter that Richardson is selling the team, linking to a five-paragraph letter by the franchise's only owner.

"I believe it is time to turn the franchise over to new ownership," Richardson wrote, saying he wouldn't begin discussions until after the season. The Panthers, who lost in the Super Bowl in 2016, are in playoff position again.

"I hope everyone in the organization, both on and off the field, will be firmly focused on one mission: to play and win the Super Bowl," said Richardson, 81.

The NFL awarded Richardson, a former player with the Baltimore Colts, an expansion franchise in 1993, and he has been the team's only owner.

Richardson's letter did not directly address the investigation.

"There has been no greater mission or purpose in my life than to have brought and NFL franchise to Charlotte," Richardson wrote. "The obstacles back then were significant and some even questioned whether or community could or would support professional football. But I always knew that if given the chance the Carolina would rise to the occasion. And you have. The team has become an integral part of the community. The stadium is in its best condition since the day it opened."

Richardson attended the game Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers at Bank of America Stadium and was photographed sitting beside his wife Rosalind in his luxury box.

He did not speak to reporters.

"While I will no longer be the team owner, I will always be the Panthers Number One fan," Richardson's letter said.

The Panthers are tied to Charlotte through June of 2019.

The city of Charlotte and the Panthers reached agreement on improvements for the team's stadium in 2013. The plan called for the city to contribute about $87 million for renovations to Bank of America Stadium in exchange for a six-year deal to keep the Panthers in Charlotte.

The money is less than what the team was seeking for improvements of the stadium, which opened in 1996. Forbes estimates the Panthers worth at $2.3 billion.

Richardson's announcement comes after a Sports Illustrated report that cited unnamed sources who said Richardson made sexually suggestive comments to women and on at least one occasion directed a racial slur at an African-American Panthers scout. The report states that the settlements came with non-disclosure requirements forbidding the parties from discussing the details.

The NFL on Sunday said it has taken over the investigation of allegations of workplace misconduct. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league had no comment on the report.

Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said Sunday the team requested the league take over the investigation.

"We thought it would be best for transparency reasons," Drummond told The Associated Press.

The investigation was originally going to be led by the law firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan, LLP, and overseen by Erskine Bowles, a minority owner with the Panthers.

Drummond said in a release that the Panthers take these allegations very seriously and are committed to a full investigation.

"The entire organization is fully committed to ensuring a safe, comfortable and diverse work environment where all individuals, regardless of sex, race, color, religion, gender, or sexual identity or orientation, are treated fairly and equally," Drummond said.

The Panthers began play in 1995 but have never delivered on Richardson's promise of winning a Super Bowl. They lost after the 2003 and 2015 seasons.

The Panthers are 10-4 entering the final two weeks of the regular season and well positioned for a playoff run.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, like most of the team's players, hadn't read the details of the report that came out just as the Panthers were preparing to play the Green Bay Packers.

Newton said Richardson has served in a "father-like role" for him since his arrival in Carolina seven years ago.

"For me I hope things don't alter my thinking of Mr. Richardson," Newton said. "But I do know that he has given me some things that I will forever be appreciative of."

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said after the game it is important to let the process play out, but vouched for Richardson's character.

"The only thing I can speak on is for what he has been to me as far as I'm concerned," Rivera said. "A lot of you know I had a house fire and he was there for (my wife) Stephanie and I. He was tremendous in supporting us. My brother passed and Mr. Richardson was there and helped me get to the funeral and back. I can't speak to anything other than that."

It has been a whirlwind year for the Panthers organization.

Team president Danny Morrison abruptly resigned in February. Richardson then fired general manager Dave Gettleman on the eve of training camp and replaced him with former general manager Marty Hurney on an interim basis. It was a surprising move considering Carolina made the playoffs three times in four seasons under Gettleman.

Vikings' win means Eagles must wait for homefield advantage

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Vikings' win means Eagles must wait for homefield advantage

MINNEAPOLIS -- Eric Kendricks had an interception return for a touchdown, Case Keenum passed for 236 yards and two scores, and the Minnesota Vikings clinched the NFC North title with a 34-7 victory over the depleted and disinterested Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 37 touches and 242 yards from scrimmage for the Vikings (11-3), who were given quite the reprieve on the schedule a week after their eight-game winning streak ended at Carolina in the last of three consecutive road trips. They were never challenged by a Bengals team missing more than half of its starting defense to injuries and met with a morning report by ESPN that head coach Marvin Lewis will not return next season.

The game went so smoothly that Teddy Bridgewater even made his grand entrance, his first live action in 16 months since a massive knee injury. Bridgewater's first pass was intercepted, a high throw that bounced off McKinnon's hands and into the arms of strong safety Shawn Williams deep in Vikings territory. That set up a short touchdown run by Giovani Bernard to keep the Bengals from being shut out for a second time this year.

Terence Newman also picked off former teammate Andy Dalton, who went just 11 for 22 for 113 yards and three first downs before the Bengals (5-9) turned to backup quarterback A.J. McCarron midway through the fourth quarter after the interception by Williams (see full recap).

Brady, Patriots do it again to Steelers
PITTSBURGH -- Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski did it to the Pittsburgh Steelers again.

One questionable decision by Ben Roethlisberger helped.

Brady fed Gronkowski repeatedly to set up Dion Lewis' go-ahead 8-yard touchdown with 56 seconds remaining and Roethlisberger was intercepted in the end zone with 5 seconds left as the New England Patriots rallied to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 on Sunday.

The Patriots (11-3) gained the inside track for homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs by ending Pittsburgh's eight-game winning streak. Brady threw for 298 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Gronkowski, fresh off a one-game suspension, finished with nine receptions for 168 yards, including four on the game-winning drive.

It briefly looked like it wouldn't be enough.

The Steelers (11-3), who played most of the game without injured wide receiver Antonio Brown, appeared to take the lead when Roethlisberger connected with tight end Jesse James for a 10-yard touchdown with 28 seconds to left. The play was overturned on review, with official Tony Corrente saying the ball did not "survive" the completion of the catch (see full recap).

Rams rout Seattle for control of division
SEATTLE -- Todd Gurley rushed for 152 yards and scored four total touchdowns in just 2 quarters, and the Los Angeles Rams moved to the cusp of their first division title since 2003 with a 42-7 thumping of the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

The matchup to determine first place in the NFC West was completely one-sided.

Los Angeles (10-4) was dominant, embarrassing Seattle into the worst loss during Pete Carroll's eight seasons in charge.

Taking advantage of field position, the Rams scored on six of seven first-half drives, including a 21-point scoring blitz in the second quarter capped by a 57-yard TD run by Gurley on third-and-20 with less than a minute remaining in the first half to take a 34-0 lead at the break.

Gurley had 144 yards rushing in the first half, twice scoring from the 1. He added a 14-yard TD reception midway through the third quarter for a 40-0 Rams lead and spent the rest of his day watching. The 152 yards rushing were the second-best of his career.

The Rams don't have the division wrapped up, but have a two-game lead with two weeks to play. A win against either Tennessee or San Francisco is enough for their first division title in 14 years (see full recap).

Saints beat Jets for 10th win
NEW ORLEANS -- Mark Ingram ran for two touchdowns and gained 151 yards from scrimmage, including a late 50-yard TD run, and the New Orleans Saints overcame three turnovers to defeat the struggling New York Jets, 31-19 on Sunday.

Michael Thomas became the second NFL player with at least 90 receptions in his first two seasons. He caught nine passes for 93 yards, including a pivotal fourth-quarter touchdown on a short slant for New Orleans (10-4), which retained its tenuous hold on first place in the NFC South heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.

Alvin Kamara turned a short catch into a 10-yard TD in his return from a concussion that knocked him out of the Saints' loss at Atlanta a week earlier.

Bryce Petty made his first start at quarterback this season for the Jets (5-9), who were eliminated from playoff contentions. Petty completed 19 of 39 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice -- once on a tipped pass and once on a long, inconsequential throw as the game ended.

His 2-yard touchdown pass to former Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire cut New Orleans' lead to 24-19 with 1:51 left. But the Jets' onside kick failed and Ingram broke loose for his long score while the Saints were really just trying to run down the clock (see full recap).