Eagles

Eagles' offense thriving as Carson Wentz spreads wealth among receivers

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USA Today Images

Eagles' offense thriving as Carson Wentz spreads wealth among receivers

Good luck figuring out who the Eagles' No. 1 receiver is.

Depends on the game. Depends on the drive. Depends on the play.

It could literally be anyone from celebrated former Pro Bowler Alshon Jeffery to unknown, undrafted Marcus Johnson.

Who's the No. 1 option? Who's Carson Wentz's favorite target? Who's getting the most catches?

Anybody. Everybody.

“Carson’s not one of those guys who says, ‘Oh, this is my favorite guy, so I’m going to him no matter what, (even in) triple coverage,'" rookie receiver Mack Hollins said.

"He’ll put the ball where it needs to be, and that’s why the offense runs so well. It’s not about favorites. Carson does what he’s coached to do and we do what we’re coached to do.

"It’s easy for defenses to say, ‘Hey, this is the main guy, we’re taking him out.' What about the other guys? We have a different guy making plays every week."

Tight end Zach Ertz had nearly 100 receiving yards in each of the Eagles' first two games. Jeffery was the leading receiver against the Giants and Panthers. It was Nelson Agholor's turn against the Cardinals, and Torrey Smith wasn't far behind.

Those four all have between 210 and 405 receiving yards, and Hollins, Wendell Smallwood, LeGarrette Blount and even undrafted rookie Corey Clement have all made big catches at various moments.

"You literally never know going into the game how many times you’re going to get the ball or what play it’s going to come on, I’ve had to learn that," Smith said.

"The touchdown I scored on a few weeks ago, the ball hasn’t gone there all year. So with Carson, you have to stay ready. You never know. And I think that’s the benefit of letting the offense play out and letting the receivers do their thing."

The Eagles have only one of the top 25 receivers in the league — Ertz is 10th in receptions and 11th in yards.

As for wide receivers, Jeffery leads the way with 24 catches — 45th-most in the league going into Sunday's games — and Agholor leads the way with 321 receiving yards, which ranked 26th.

Yet here are the Eagles, No. 3 in the NFL in offense and with the league's best record at 5-1 going into their Monday night showdown with the Redskins at the Linc.

“Just being able to spread the ball around is a huge thing that we pride ourselves on," Wentz said. "We have a number of playmakers and it’s all about mismatches. Finding your mismatches … whether it’s from the tight end position, the slot receiver position, the X, the Z, even our backs out of the backfield.

"It just makes us so dynamic and makes us so difficult to defend."

When the big-name veteran Pro Bowl receiver is unselfish, it really sets the tone for the whole team.

Even though Jeffery's numbers don't pop off the stat sheet, his coaches and teammates rave about his team-first attitude. Here's a guy who's been a Pro Bowler, who's caught 85 passes twice, who had the 10th-most yards per game in the NFL over the last four years and who's on a one-year, prove-it contract. And he's fully bought into Doug Pederson's team-first philosophy.

"You would think an established No. 1 guy would come in here and say, ‘I want the ball 10 times a game,’ and Alshon has been the complete opposite," Ertz said.

"He’s very humble, he’s extremely quiet, so I think that’s something that kind of rubs off on the rest of the guys. Just how patient he is. He doesn’t force anything and I think it speaks volumes as to who he is as a person."

Jeffery hasn't been bad, but his 52 yards per game is well below the 79 per game he averaged the last four years.

Ask him about the dropoff, and he sounds like a guy who's never played in a postseason game, averaged 6½ wins per year in Chicago and only wants to win.

“In order to win a championship, everybody has to be unselfish," Jeffery said.

"I’m comfortable, as long as we’re winning. We’re trying to win a Super Bowl and that’s my only goal. … Whoever the ball’s going to, as long as we’re catching it and we’re getting wins, that’s all that matters. We’re all after the same thing."

Receivers are often the flamboyant, hot-headed, selfish guys on any team. Demanding the football. Screaming for more targets. Obsessed with their numbers.

Good luck finding one guy like that on this team.

"We talk about it all the time," Hollins said. "We want to make a playoff run and we want to go to a Super Bowl and we have these aspirations as a team.

"It’s never about I, it’s about we. How far can we go? How many plays can we make? How much can we help the team?”

This is the mantra Pederson has repeated since he got here: The team is all that matters.

And they've all bought in.

"Alshon could easily say, ‘Hey, I need more targets,’ or Zach could say, ‘Hey, I need more targets,’" Pederson said. "LeGarrette could say, ‘I need more rushing attempts.'

"But you know what? When everybody has a piece of the pie, and you look at the end of the day and all our top receivers are getting equal amount of targets during the game and our rushing attempts and passing attempts are almost 50-50 and the bottom line is winning the game, then that's the exciting part. And then nobody cares.

"They don't care about their own stat sheet, their own bottom line. They're unselfish guys. I talk about team all the time with the guys. It's about ‘us’ mentality, not individuals, and that's what they've bought into.

"That's the way we coach. That's the way I teach, and it's been very, very successful so far."

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

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USA Today Images

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

When Doug Pederson said back in July that the 2017 Eagles "probably have more talent" than the Super Bowl Packers teams of the 1990s that Pederson played on, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Millions of eyebrows maybe.
 
The Eagles? Who hadn't won a playoff game since 2008 and were coming off a 7-9 record in Pederson's first season?
 
More talented than a team that went to the playoffs virtually every year from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s behind Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Reggie White and reached back-to-back Super Bowls in 1996 and 1997, winning one?
 
"I look back on my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs, those Super Bowl runs there," Pederson said on July 17.
 
"And do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?"
 
Seriously, Doug?
 
Six months later, Pederson's comments — which seemed so ridiculous at the time — don't seem so ridiculous, do they?
 
Because here are those 2017 Eagles, sitting 13-3 with a playoff win over the Falcons in the books and a berth Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings despite a rash of injuries to some of their best players.
 
The Eagles haven't lost a game with postseason implications since Carson Wentz was lost for the season, and they're one home win from reaching their third Super Bowl.
 
Pederson, who had two stints backing up Brett Favre with the Packers — from 1996 through 1998 and 2001 through 2004 — was reminded of his comments Friday before practice.
 
"I don't have a crystal ball, obviously, and it's hard to predict," he said. "You'd love to sit here and go, 'Yeah, in the summer, (I thought we were) going to be 13-3 and win the NFC East.' You'd love to be in that situation, or 16-0, or whatever it might be.
 
"I did have a feeling back then when I made that statement that we could be, we had the potential to be a good football team because of the way we've practiced and the talent that we brought to the roster and the progression of Carson in his second year.
 
"And then defensively, the front, the way they performed, and the back end, I saw a lot of the same similarities. So you just have that gut feeling when I made that statement."
 
Back in July, when Pederson made those comments comparing the Eagles to the Packers, he tempered them by saying talent isn't always enough. It takes much more for a team to have success.
 
"I (said) it takes great coaching, teaching, mentoring to also have our guys prepared each week to be in this position," Pederson said. "So all of that has kind of culminated. I think you look back on it and you go, 'Wow, maybe it was a true type of thing.'
 
"But we just keep doing our jobs, keep doing what we've been coached to do. Players play what they can do and what's in their control, and we're here today."

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

Veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) is the only Eagles player listed as questionable for this week's game. Everyone else on the 53-man roster is expected to be available. 

Ellerbe, 32, missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and Friday. 

The Eagles' starting MIKE linebacker was also listed as questionable last week and was able to play, so expect him to be good to go. After all, this is the NFC Championship Game. There's no resting for anything else. 

In Minnesota, wide receiver Adam Thielen (lower back) and safety Andrew Sendejo (concussion) are both listed as questionable. 

Thielen, the Vikings' top receiver, missed Wednesday's practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday. Just like Ellerbe, there's no saving him for next week. 

Sendejo was limited on Wednesday and Thursday, was a full participant on Friday, but is still technically in the NFL's concussion protocol. He'll need to clear that before he's able to play, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he's optimistic Sendejo will be able to play. 

Meanwhile, third defensive tackle, Shamar Stephen (knee/ankle), missed practice all week and has been ruled out. While Stephen isn't a starter, he played just under 40 percent of the Vikings' snaps this season, so missing him is still a loss.

After practicing indoors on Wednesday and Thursday, the Eagles loaded up on buses and spent their Friday practice outside at Lincoln Financial Field. Head coach Doug Pederson likes to get his guys outside for at least one day per week. 

The Eagles will have a walkthrough on Saturday before they'll be back at the Linc for Sunday's 6:40 p.m. kickoff in the NFC Championship Game.