Eagles

Eagles-Panthers: Roob's 10 observations

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Eagles-Panthers: Roob's 10 observations

BOX SCORE

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Eagles are the best team in the NFC.

They just went into Bank of America Stadium and beat a playoff-savvy 4-1 Panthers team on national TV. That's four wins in a row, that's a 5-1 record, that's an elite team that you watched Thursday night.

So no more talk about who they've played or haven't played. You wanted a signature win? You got one. 

The Eagles have arrived.

The Eagles got another magical performance from Carson Wentz, intercepted Cam Newton three times, shut down the Panthers' rushing attack and got out of town with a 28-23 win (see breakdown).

What a great night for 10 instant observations!

1. Wentz took such a beating Thursday night, especially in the first half, that for him to come out in the second half and make the throws he did is nothing short of astonishing. Wentz got hit snap after snap. He was sacked three times early. When he ran, he got clobbered. The Eagles missed Lane Johnson big time. A lot of quarterbacks can put up big numbers when they have great protection and they can just stand back there and find the open guy and fire away. What Wentz did Thursday night is just remarkable. To get leveled that many times early and just shake it off and pick apart the No. 9-ranked pass defense in the NFL in a deafening stadium on the road on national TV on a short week … just scary what this kid is doing now just 22 games into his NFL career. Wentz threw 16 touchdowns in 16 games last year. He already has 13 in six games, seven in his last two. His TD-to-INT ratio is now 13 to 3. The kid is flat-out money. There isn't a player in the NFL I'd rather have. Nobody.

2. How much fun is it watching the Eagles' run defense? Goodness gracious. Sound in its gaps, physical, swarm to the ball and sure tacklers. That's a very potent combination, and it's no surprise only one running back has rushed for over 35 yards against the Eagles this year — Rookie of the Year candidate Kareem Hunt of the Chiefs. Getting Fletcher Cox back was huge (see story), but even when Cox was out, the Eagles were stout against the run, which is impressive. What an advantage forcing teams to play left-handed all the time. Newton ran for 71 yards Thursday night, but just talking running backs, the Panthers got one yard on 13 carries Thursday. That's less than three inches per carry. As long as the Eagles keep running the ball and stopping the run, they're going to be almost impossible to beat.

3. Huge moment in this one for me was the goal-line stand early in the third quarter. The Panthers had a 1st-and-goal on the Eagles' 5-yard line, but tremendous pressure forced Newton into back-to-back incomplete passes and then Nigel Bradham made something like his 587th big play of the night, stopping Christian McCaffrey short of the goal line, and the Panthers had to settle for a field goal. It was a huge momentum swing, and although the Panthers stayed in the game, they never recovered.

4. Speaking of Bradham, he played out of his mind in this one (see story). He threw Jonathan Stewart for a six-yard loss, he knocked down three passes, he had 10 tackles, he was all over the field. Really tremendous play by the veteran linebacker, especially after the Eagles lost Jordan Hicks to another ankle injury. Bradham is your Defensive Player of the Game.

5. Let's put Jake Elliott's achievements into some perspective: David Akers is the greatest kicker in Eagles history and is even going into the Eagles Hall of Fame later this season. He never made three 50-yard field goals in a season with the Eagles. Elliott has played five games in his career and has already made three field goals of 50 yards or more. In fact, only six kickers in history have made more 50-yarders in an Eagles uniform than Elliott has in five games. Elliott added a 48-yarder later in the game and will take a streak of 10 consecutive made field goals into the Monday night game into Washington. To think that they flat-out stole this kid from the Bengals' practice squad is incredible. Oh, and Randy Bullock? The kicker the Bengals kept instead of Elliott? His last 50-yarder was in 2014.

6. Let's talk about LeGarrette Blount. Are you kidding me? What he's been able to do in these last four games since his mysterious zero-carry game against the Chiefs is virtually unprecedented in NFL history. Blount ran 14 times for 67 yards Sunday — I wish that 14 were closer to 20 — and he's now put together four straight games with 12 or more carries and an average of 4.8 or higher. He's only the second player in NFL history in his 30s with four straight games with at least a dozen carries and an average that high. The only other one was James Brooks of the Bengals in 1989. Blount has a really unique combination of power and moves and balance and vision. He's a different kind of runner, but, man, he's fun to watch. I had no idea how good he was. I don't think anybody did. He's been dazzling.

7. I should have mentioned higher up what an incredible job Doug Pederson is doing with this team. The Eagles have scored at least 20 points in every game this year and, in fact, in 10 straight games going back to last year, which is the fourth-longest streak in franchise history. The Eagles are rolling on both sides of the ball and special teams, and Pederson deserves a world of credit with the way he has this group playing. He's not only in the Coach of the Year conversation, I'd say he's the leader with 2½ months to go.

8. Rasul Douglas makes mistakes. All rookie cornerbacks make mistakes. But I really see something special there. He picked up his second interception Thursday night (see rookie report), and he's the first Eagles cornerback with two INTs in his first five career games since Eric Allen. I have no idea what the Eagles are going to do once Sidney Jones is back and Ronald Darby is back, but they have some really talented young corners. 

9. And let's not forget Jalen Mills, who picked up his second interception as well Thursday night. Douglas is 22, Mills is 23. They have four interceptions, and it's Week 6. The smartest thing the Eagles did this offseason was finally go young at cornerback. 

10. I never complain about officiating. Ever. But 10 penalties for 126 yards against the Eagles and one penalty for one yard against the Panthers is hard to believe (see Gunn's bullet points). According to Pro Football Reference, this was only the third game since penalty yards started being tracked in which one team had at least 100 penalty yards and another had one or fewer. That's outrageous. For the Eagles to overcome that, as well as everything else they were up against, shows just how far this team has come.

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 Cards, 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 6 ½ 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."

Eagles-Redskins thoughts: A win away from commanding conference lead

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Eagles-Redskins thoughts: A win away from commanding conference lead

Eagles-Redskins
8:30 p.m. on ESPN
Eagles  favored by 4.5

The Eagles can become the first team in the NFL to six wins in 2017 — if they complete a series sweep of the NFC East rival Redskins on Monday night.

No need to pinch yourself, because you're not dreaming. At 5-1, the Eagles entered Week 7 with the league's best record. They're on a four-game winning streak and are set to kick off a three-game homestand. And the Eagles already knocked off Washington on the road in the regular-season opener, so confidence should be sky high.

With another victory over the Redskins, not only would the Eagles take a commanding three-game lead in the division standings, they also would continue to stake their claim as the hottest team in pro football.

Not the same Redskins
Back in Week 1, when the prospect of a new season gave hope to all 32 teams, Washington was a tough opponent. The Eagles would eventually win the initial meeting by a final score of 30-17, but they led by only two points until just under two minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

But much has happened over the past month-and-a-half, and the Redskins do not appear to be as strong of an opponent now. Frankly, they've been decimated by injuries.

Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and kicker Dustin Hopkins went on injured reserve this week. All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman is out as well, while fellow starting defensive backs Bashaud Breeland and Deshazor Everett are among six players listed as questionable. The questionables also include left tackle Trent Williams, who is desperately trying to delay knee surgery.

The 'Skins certainly have enough weapons on both sides of the ball that they still pose a threat. However, there's no denying their roster has been weakened by injuries, and their depth will be put to the test against the Eagles.

Bombs away
The injuries to Washington's secondary may be especially problematic, given the way the Eagles attacked this area during the previous meeting.

The Eagles managed to score 30, and seven of those were the result of a defensive touchdown, but the offense easily could've been much worse. Carson Wentz had receivers open deep down the field on multiple occasions yet repeatedly overthrew or underthrew the likes of Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith.

Wentz completed 26 of 39 pass attempts for 307 yards with two touchdowns in the opener, despite missing on some big gainers. In other words, the outcome could've been far worse.

Think Wentz will miss on those shots again should they present themselves? Don't count on it. The second-year quarterback has been connecting on a higher rate of his deep targets of late, while throwing for 526 yards and seven touchdowns in the last two contests. As long as he's in that kind of rhythm, Wentz is capable of doing some serious damage against this group.

An emerging threat
Starting running back Robert Kelley — officially questionable — remains among the many injuries to Washington this week. That being said, his absence has led to something of a silver lining in the form of a breakout season for Chris Thompson.

Thompson has sneakily become one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL. His 515 yards from scrimmage are less than 200 behind his career high with 11 games to play. His whopping 18.9 yards per reception were good for fourth in the NFL entering the week.

This is a so-called third-down running back, who with 340 yards receiving through five games is currently on pace to eclipse 1,000 on the season.

Thompson has become by far the Redskins' biggest weapon, leading the team through the air, rushing with 175 yards on the ground, and touchdowns with four. Find a way to slow Thompson and keep him from getting into the open field and the Eagles will likely slow the entire offense.

We're No. 1
Of course, the Eagles probably aren't too concerned about Washington running the ball against them. After all, nobody else has had much success doing so.

The Eagles may have the NFL's 29th-ranked pass defense through six weeks, but that's at least partially because they boast the league's best run D. Allowing only 67.5 yards per game on the ground, the Eagles are forcing opponents to put the ball in the air, and while that's led to some statistical production, it's also played right into their hands.

One-dimensional offenses have led to plenty of opportunities in the Eagles' secondary, which entered the week tied for 11th with six interceptions. The Eagles' 14 sacks are also tied for 15th.

These aren't incredible rankings, either. Still, it goes to show what can happen when offenses are forced to repeatedly throw the ball for lack of another option against even a suspect secondary. Often times, it's an approach that will eventually lead to mistakes — like Brandon Graham's sack of Kirk Cousins that resulted in a 20-yard fumble return against Washington in Week 1.

Controlling their destiny
Washington is an opponent that's there for the taking. And as long as the Eagles take care of business, they will remain squarely in the driver's seat in the NFC East, and the entire conference for that matter.

The Eagles are the only team with two wins in the division, and the Cowboys are currently the only other team without a loss. In terms of the entire NFC, the Eagles are also a perfect 4-0 going into this game, while only the Falcons (3-0) remain unbeaten in conference play.

This game is all about control. If the Eagles control the Redskins, they will control the East, and they will be well on their way to controlling a conference that's very much up for grabs.

In other words, the Eagles need to take what is rightfully theirs on Monday.