Eagles

Eagles' offense thriving as Carson Wentz spreads wealth among receivers

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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."

Carson Wentz was great in 2017, but there's one thing he'd like to improve

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Carson Wentz was great in 2017, but there's one thing he'd like to improve

He was among the NFL’s best in virtually every category. Fourth in passer rating. First in touchdown percentage. Eighth in interception percentage. Second in TD-to-INT ratio. He was even third in wins despite missing the last three regular-season games.

So what’s Carson Wentz’s approach going into 2018?

“I think we can improve everywhere,” he said. “Overall, I think we can keep making strides and keep our foot on the gas.”

And that starts with completion percentage.

Wentz completed just 60.2 percent of his passes last year, which ranked 23rd of 30 quarterbacks who threw at least 400 passes. 

Ahead of only Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, Mitch Trubisky, Cam Newton, Trevor Siemian, Jacoby Brissett and DeShone Kizer.

Not the kind of company he wants to keep.

Wentz was so good in every other area he still fashioned a passer rating over 100. In fact, his 101.9 rating was the highest in NFL history by a quarterback completing 60.2 percent of his passes (minimum 400 attempts).

The league average last year was 62 percent. And for the sake of comparison, Nick Foles completed 64.7 percent of his passes if you combine the regular season and postseason.

Wentz dropped from 62.4 percent as a rookie to 60.2 percent last year.

Among 36 active NFL quarterbacks who’ve thrown at least 1,000 passes, Wentz’s 61.5 completion percentage ranks 21st.

 “I know I’d like to see my completions go higher,” Wentz said last week. “I think I was right around 60 percent and I expect more out of myself in that area.”

After 2016, Wentz identified red zone and third down as two areas he hoped to improve on. 

And he wound up leading the NFL in both red zone efficiency (NFL-best 116.3 passer rating) and third-down efficiency (NFL-best 123.7 rating).

“Third down, red zone, we were really good,” he said. “That’s something we really focused on from Year 1 to Year 2, but we (still) all feel we can definitely improve in those areas.”

Wentz also committed nine fumbles in 13 games, and only Jameis Winston and Russell Wilson had more.

“I think we had too many fumbles,” he said. “Balls on the ground too many times.”

Wentz, now nearly five months out from his knee injury, said he’s used a lot of his extra time at the NovaCare Complex this offseason focusing on what he can improve on in 2018, and one of those things is his upper-body strength.

“With all the extra rehab and not being able to run and do a lot of things early on you’ve really just got to focus on some different things and I got to do a lot of seated throwing and trying to build my arm strength and really take care of my upper body more than I have in the past,” he said.

“It’s been an interesting process not being able to get that true conditioning and that rehab in, but it’s exciting to start easing into the running and conditioning stuff. … 

“I feel good. I definitely feel working with the strength guys, we had some friendly competition stuff with the other (injured) guys in there rehabbing and I definitely feel like I’m making some strides in there.”

Forget empty Day 2 of draft, Eagles hoping to find gold in Day 3

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Forget empty Day 2 of draft, Eagles hoping to find gold in Day 3

The Eagles are scheduled to have a pretty boring Day 2 of the draft this year. Because after they pick at No. 32, they don’t have another selection until the 31st pick of the fourth round. 

That means 98 players will be taken between the Eagles’ first and second picks. And they’ll have to watch other teams pick that entire Friday (Rounds 2-3) without them … unless they make a move. 

“We’re not looking at it like we’re sitting out on Friday,” Eagles de facto GM Howie Roseman said. “We’re going through our draft process looking at every scenario. When we get to Friday, we get to Friday.” 

Even if the Eagles don’t make a move, they’ll be plenty busy Saturday, the final day of the draft. They have two fourth-round picks and one pick in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. 

Eagles personnel head Joe Douglas showed up to his media availability with a stat ready to go to illustrate the importance of Day 3. 

“We’re excited that we have five picks on Saturday,” Douglas said. “When you look at the Super Bowl, there’s 22 starters that were third-round picks or lower. Of those 22, 18 of them were fourth-round picks or lower. So 18 starters in the Super Bowl this year were fourth-round picks or lower, including six of them that were undrafted free agents. We choose to keep the glass half full.” 

Douglas is right on all those stats — 22 of 44 starters in the Super Bowl were drafted in the third or lower and 18 of them would be considered Day 3 picks. Not bad. 

Here’s how the Super Bowl starters broke down by round: 1-10, 2-12, 3-4, 4-4, 5-3, 6-3, 7-2, UDFA-6. 

The Eagles accounted for seven of the 18 players who were drafted in the fourth round or later, so the Patriots were the ones who found even more value late in drafts. And of those seven, just three were original Eagles — Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jason Kelce and Jalen Mills. 

Of the six undrafted players who started in the Super Bowl, two were from the Eagles — LeGarrette Blount and Rodney McLeod. Neither was an original Eagle, but the Birds also relied heavily on running back Corey Clement, who was an undrafted rookie last season. 

With a dearth of high draft picks, it would make sense if the Eagles attack the undrafted market following the draft, but Douglas thinks it won’t be as easy as many might think. 

“You would think because we’re coming off a Super Bowl, we don’t have a second or third round pick that it would be a lot easier after the draft,” Douglas said. “But my experience coming off a Super Bowl, it’s sometimes harder to get guys to commit to your roster because agents and players have a perceived notion that it’s going to be that much tougher to make the team. I think that’s going to be a challenge. I think that’s going to be a challenge for us and we know it and we’re going to attack it.”

The Eagles in recent years have shown a willingness to pony up significant money to entice undrafted players to sign with them, and if Douglas is right, they might need to do it again to land some this year. 

Either way, the Eagles know how important Day 3 and beyond can be. So when they’re bored on Day 2, they don’t plan on losing focus.