Eagles

Eagles Rookie Report: Derek Barnett disruptive, Corey Clement scores yet again

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Eagles Rookie Report: Derek Barnett disruptive, Corey Clement scores yet again

The Eagles took over the second half of a 37-9 road win Sunday night over the rival Cowboys (see breakdown).

First-round pick Derek Barnett continued to look the part and Corey Clement found the end zone yet again.

Here are a few highlights in this week's rookie report.

1st quarter, 1:15, 2nd-and-10 at DAL 20 - Eagles 7, Cowboys 6
Barnett doesn't record a sack here, but he certainly makes this play. Byron Bell isn't given any help on this play and Barnett beats him badly with an outside speed rush. Barnett arrives as soon as Dak Prescott finishes his drop and forces the second-year quarterback to throw it before he's ready. Safety Malcolm Jenkins gets the tip coming on a delayed blitz. The ball then hits off Terrence Williams and into the arms of safety Rodney McLeod. 

2nd quarter, 2:37, 1st-and-10 at DAL 25 - Eagles 7, Cowboys 6
On this play, Barnett isn't blocked. Bold strategy, Cotton. Prescott fakes the handoff right and bootlegs left. The hope is Barnett will crash down the line, hoping to blow up the run from the weak side. Instead, Barnett stays disciplined and runs straight at Prescott. This is probably Barnett's most impressive success so far this season. He bears down on Prescott, who is extremely elusive, and wraps the Cowboys' signal caller for the sack (see Roob's observations).

2nd quarter, 9:13, 3rd-and-17 at DAL 18 - Eagles 7, Cowboys 6
I'm not sure if Barnett actually affected Prescott on this throw, but I'll give him credit. Lined up in a two-point stance, Barnett initially looks like he might just settle into zone coverage. Instead, it almost works like a delayed blitz. Barnett charges in on Prescott, who then makes a terrible throw and decision to force a ball to Dez Bryant. The errant throw is easily picked off by cornerback Ronald Darby.

3rd quarter, 10:56, 2nd-and-2 at DAL 11 - Cowboys 9, Eagles 7
When the Eagles have needed a big play this season, they've called on No. 30 on more than one occasion. An eight-yard carry by Clement on first-down sets this play up. Carson Wentz in lined up in the shotgun with Clement to his right. The Eagles' were incredibly effective using traps to help mitigate the aggressiveness of the Cowboys' front four. On this play, right guard Brandon Brooks pulls to the left and seals off defensive tackle David Irving. Both left guard Stefen Wisniewski and left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai did an excellent job getting to the second level to take on linebackers, allowing Clement to get into the Dallas secondary. Clement yet again shows off his patience and vision and dives in for six.

3rd quarter, 10:56, Two-point conversion attempt at DAL 2 - Eagles 13, Cowboys 9
With kicker Jake Elliott out with a concussion, Doug Pederson made the decision to go for two instead of having backup linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill attempt a kick. And Pederson pulled something interesting from his bag of tricks on this one. Initially, the Eagles line up fairly traditionally with two receivers to the right, a tight end tight to the left and Clement in the backfield. Then the players all motion out wide to the right in a diamond. Clement is the player in the back. Wentz throws the ball immediately after the snap. The ball is thrown backward so it's actually considered a run. Clement secures the catch and plunges in. This was a fun play design.

4th quarter, 10:37, 3rd-and-5 at DAL 45 - Eagles 29, Cowboys 9
Man, the Cowboys are in an awful lot of trouble without Tyron Smith at left tackle. Barnett just blows right by Bell yet again. The best part of this play is the awareness from Barnett. He sees Prescott wind back to throw and knows he won't be able to make the tackle. Instead, he reaches for Prescott's right elbow, knocking the ball loose. Linebacker Nigel Bradham scoops it up and runs it back for a touchdown.

Analysis
What else can you say about Barnett? Sure, the Cowboys are really struggling without their All-Pro left tackle, but the rookie Barnett took full advantage. He's now up to 4 1/2 sacks through 10 games while being a part-time player. Damn impressive rookie season thus far (see report card).

I'm also not sure what else you can say about Clement. Even with the addition of Jay Ajayi, Pederson still trusts the undrafted rookie. He finished with 50 yards on six carries. He's now up to six total TDs this season.

Eagles' offense 'full steam ahead' with Nick Foles at QB

Eagles' offense 'full steam ahead' with Nick Foles at QB

Carson Wentz is out, Nick Foles is in. 

And the Eagles claim their offense isn't going to change. 

On it's face, that seems somewhat absurd. After all, Wentz is more than an average quarterback. He's the face of the Eagles' franchise and was an MVP candidate through 13 weeks. Foles was once a Pro Bowler, but there's a reason he wasn't a starter entering this season. 

So how will the offense look different? 

"I don't expect it will look different at all," Foles said adamantly.  

Why is that? 

"Because it's our offense," Foles answered. "This is the Eagles' offense. This is the one that is the DNA of this team. And we're going to do what we do. We have so many tremendous players on offense that can do a lot of different things. We just have to go out there and execute and have a great week of work and just keep moving." 

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich finally admitted that there will be "very minor tweaks" to the Eagles' weekly game plans with Foles in at quarterback. But he made the same point as Foles, that the system is built around the QB, but also around the other talent on offense. 

There is, however, one pretty significant difference between Wentz and Foles. 

"Now, Carson has some unique physical traits that he does exceptionally well, but it's nothing that Nick can't handle," Reich said. "We're full steam ahead."

The Eagles run plenty of run-pass option plays, but head coach Doug Pederson pointed out on Monday that the Eagles very rarely use their quarterback to run the ball in those situations. And as far as RPOs go, Foles has used them plenty before. 

Another part of the offense that has been tailored to Wentz is the autonomy the quarterback has at the line of scrimmage. Wentz has been able to make calls and checks pre-snap based on what the defense shows. It seems like Foles will have that same ability, which is something he's excited about. 

"Understand this, he's a veteran player who has played and won a lot of games, not only here, but other places that he's been," Pederson said. "Nick's a highly intelligent football player."

Pederson said he and Foles will talk weekly to make sure his quarterback is comfortable with the plays that go into the game plan. So, theoretically, things could be different. But based on what the offensive leaders of the team have said, don't expect wholesale changes. 

Now, what might change about the offense isn't necessarily by design. Because of Wentz's unique physical gifts and escapability, he's able to make incredible plays. The escape in Washington, the throw to Corey Clement in the end zone, the deep flick down the sideline in Seattle, those are plays only a handful of guys in the world can make. It would be unfair to expect Foles to make them. 

But as far as game-planning goes, the Eagles are going to do what they've done. 

"I feel comfortable in this offense," Foles said. "I love this offense. We're going to run this offense. Nothing's going to change."

Foles dealt with elbow soreness during the summer, but says his elbow now feels "amazing" and is not an issue. That's good news for the Eagles, because at least Foles has plenty of starting experience. His backup, Nate Sudfeld, has never even been active for an NFL game. 

The Eagles' hopes in 2017 rest on the shoulders of Foles. 

"I've always been a gunslinger, just let it rip," Foles said. "That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to play loose, count on the guys, lead this team. There's no other place I'd rather be. That's why I came back here. ... I'm ready to step up and help this team win."

Doug Pederson needs to give his new QB some help

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Doug Pederson needs to give his new QB some help

I know you're feeling conflicted right now. The Eagles are 11-2, tied for the best record in the NFL. They've already clinched the NFC East. Home-field advantage and a playoff bye are a very real possibility. But the Carson Wentz injury is an equalizer and then some.

On the bright side, the Flyers steadied their sinking ship in Western Canada by winning three straight. But the Sixers have dropped four in a row. Maybe the Phils will land Jake Arrieta or Manny Machado? Dare to dream. You're up, you're down. Welcome to Philadelphia sports. So what better time to provide some nice, healthy Rob's Rants? Letting things out can be therapeutic and after the Wentz news, I need to vent a little.    

Run-pass-option
It's hard to find fault with Doug Pederson this season. He's done an excellent job game planning and having his team prepared week in and week out, and his most impressive work has been his ability to overcome injuries. The Eagles have lost Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, Darren Sproles, Chris Maragos, just to name a few. All of the above represent major core pieces and Pederson's team is 11-2. Losing Wentz trumps them all and presents the head coach's biggest challenge. So look at this not so much as a rant but a plea to Doug P. moving forward.     

Nick Foles entered the Rams game late in the third quarter with the Eagles trailing 35-31. Certainly a difficult spot for any backup. He hadn't taken a meaningful snap all season. Logic would dictate emphasizing the run to let him get his feet wet. This was not the late fourth quarter, no timeouts, need to move down the field quickly type of circumstances. Further, the Eagles have three very capable running backs.

Pederson elected to throw the ball five straight times and called pass plays on eight of nine in the possession. The Birds did wind up getting a field goal on the drive and Foles completed three passes, but you wonder if it's the wisest move to drop Foles back that much, that quickly. I know Doug has been aggressive all season and that in part has helped the Eagles get where they are, and I'm also well aware of the heat he took by many (including me) for being too passive in the Seattle loss. But with Foles' lack of mobility in the pocket and the left side of the Eagles' offensive line struggling mightily against the pass rush, a bigger dose of the run could have made his transition back to starter a little smoother. But beyond the Rams game, balance and a commitment to the run will be Foles' best friend, along with a strong defense.    

Sixers struggles
It's one thing to lose in Cleveland and New Orleans, especially without Joel Embiid for both games and Robert Covington vs. the Pelicans. It's another to drop home games to the likes of the Suns and the Lakers prior to those defeats. For that, there is no excuse. The Sixers have lost four in a row and stand at 13-13. They continue to turn the ball over at an alarming rate and of late have not come to play to start games, particularly at home. Some of this can be chalked up to youth. Some not so much.

They are losing far too many 50-50 balls. Too many offensive rebounds and second chances allowed. That's just hustle and want. They also need veterans like Jerryd Bayless to be better, especially in the absence of T.J. McConnell. I've pointed this out before in this space but the Sixers are beyond losing to the NBA's dregs. It would also be nice to get the No. 1 overall pick from this past draft on the floor at some point.    

Army-Navy
Let's close out this Rob's Rants on two positives. First, the 118th edition of Army-Navy football was played Saturday right here in Philadelphia. It is everything that is right about sports and our country. The men doing battle on that field at the Linc put sports into the context it deserves. Battle hard on the field, win or lose, respect to your opponent, represent our service men and women and country. Then it's on to further protecting and serving. They are truly unique individuals. And to have it played in the snow in such a cool setting was awesome.

DJ and the Kernal
Lastly, Dick Jerardi and Mike Kern both recently announced their retirements from the Philadelphia Daily News. They were as good of writers as this city has ever seen. They were even better people. I grew up reading them and had the opportunity as an adult to work with them professionally as a producer, then as a host and the pleasure was all mine. They knew of what they wrote, you learned something every time you read them, and they provided a sense of humor while doing it. Nothing beat our yearly Daily News Live Christmas Eve shows with Hall of Famer John Chaney. Their bylines will be missed.