Eagles

Eagles' run defense faces toughest test yet vs. Bears' attack

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Eagles' run defense faces toughest test yet vs. Bears' attack

The Eagles may boast the No. 1 run defense in the NFL these days, but that ranking will be put to the test Sunday by the Chicago Bears (see matchups to watch).

“If we can’t stop the run, it’s going to be a long day,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said this week. “Let’s not get that mistaken.”

Few teams are as committed to the ground attack as the Bears, and even fewer are more productive. Since rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky became the starter in Week 5, Chicago ranks seventh in the league in rushing attempts. For the entire 2017 season, the offense is fifth with 131.8 rushing yards per game.

The Eagles are limiting opponents to nearly half that total at 71.0 yards per game. They’ve also faced only a smattering of backfields as talented as Chicago’s, if any. Plus, many offenses have abandoned the run — a strategy the Bears aren’t likely to attempt regardless of the score.

“We know they’re going to run the football,” Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “They even run the football a lot of times on third-and-long. It’s something they’re going to do.

“There’s a reason why they’re fifth in the league in rushing.”

Given the nature of their passing attack, the Bears’ best shot at pulling off an upset at Lincoln Financial Field is to keep the Eagles' offense on the sideline.

“Even if it’s not getting you a whole lot," Jenkins said, "if you can slowly move the chains and control the game, I think that’s something that they’ll continue to do.”

Trubisky, selected with the second-overall pick in the draft, has begun making strides in recent weeks. He completed 60.0 percent of his passes and avoided throwing an interception in each of the last two games, both one-possession losses. In fact, the Bears haven’t lost any of Trubisky’s six starts by more than eight points, and are 2-4 since he’s taken over.

Trubisky wasn’t asked to throw the ball much in those two victories, either — a combined total of 23 pass attempts. Instead, Chicago was able to lean on running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.

“It’s kind of like a thunder and lightning situation," Bradham said, "kind of what we had here at the beginning of the season with (LeGarrette Blount) and (Darren Sproles).”

Howard is the workhorse back and is often overlooked as one of the NFL’s bright, young stars due to the quality of his team. The 23-year-old was the runner-up to the rushing champion as a rookie in 2016 with 1,313 yards. Ten games into his second season, he’s up to 841 yards with a 4.4 average and five touchdowns.

A fourth-round pick from FCS school North Carolina AT&T in 2017, Cohen has immediately emerged as one of the league’s scariest change-of-pace/receiving backs. The 5-foot-6, 181-pound ball carrier has 537 total yards from scrimmage and leads the team with 33 receptions.

The duo is featured prominently in just about everything the Bears do on offense.

“They put both backs on the field at the same time a little bit, too,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “Sometimes it's two-back sets, sometimes it's one.

“Traditionally there's a fullback back there in two-back sets, but not so much with the Bears. They can put two guys back there. It spreads you a little bit thin. You have to be very assignment-sound. It'll test us in the run game.”

Cohen, in particular, has caused defenses some problems because, much like Sproles for the Eagles, he can line up all over the formation. Some teams have even opted to roll coverages to his area of the field, though that might be as much about Chicago’s dearth of receivers as it is respect for the 22-year-old.

Whatever the case, Jenkins doesn’t expect the Eagles to roll coverages, adding that’s not something they’ve done all season. Regardless, with three run or pass plays of 35 yards or more this season, Cohen is a home run threat — although the Eagles aren't giving up many home runs (see story).

“He’s definitely a matchup issue, and they put him all over the place,” Jenkins said. “He’s at receiver, he’s in the backfield, he’s in the slot. Everybody is going to have to hold up. Whether he’s on a linebacker or a safety or a corner, we’ve seen him make plays at every position.

“He’s running post routes on corners and making the play. Then they’re able to line up and run the ball at pretty much anybody, so we’ll have our hands full with that.”

Howard is a threat to rip off long gains on the ground as well, with three runs of 50 and over. Then Trubisky is capable of taking off, too, with 163 yards rushing.

“His ability to make plays with his legs has been a positive,” Jenkins said. “He’s a mobile guy. When all else fails, he can escape the pocket and extend the play.

“Whether it’s scrambling for a first down, or scrambling to get somebody open, that’s always tough on the defense.”

Up until last week, it was beginning to look like there may not have been a running game in the league that the Eagles needed to fear. Then the Dallas Cowboys posted 112 yards last Sunday — tied for the most the Eagles have allowed all season and the most since Week 2. And Dallas was without All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is suspended.

Then again, if the Bears are only able to muster 112 yards rushing this week, the Eagles might consider that a victory in itself.

To put those numbers in perspective, exactly half of the league is allowing more than 112.0 yards rushing per game this season. In other words, the Bears are probably going to have to fare a lot better than that to knock off the Eagles.

“I think we set that bar awful high,” Schwartz said. “Some people might get a pat on the back for that.

“It's a tribute to the players in the locker room that that's a poor performance for them, and they consider it a poor performance.”

Pederson interviewing 2 for Eagles' OC job

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Pederson interviewing 2 for Eagles' OC job

While many folks are off for Presidents Day, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is hard at work trying to figure out how to replace Frank Reich. 

Pederson is spending his Monday interviewing running backs coach Duce Staley and wide receivers coach Mike Groh for the Eagles' vacant offensive coordinator position, a league source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN's Tim McManus first reported the news Monday. 

It's possible one or both coaches could take over in some sort of offensive coordinator role. 

Reich left his post as offensive coordinator earlier this month when he accepted the head coaching job in Indianapolis. While it might not seem like an OC who doesn't call the plays has a big role, Reich was a good sounding board for Pederson and seemed to be very-well trusted by the head coach. He also helped put the weekly gameplan together. 

It makes sense that the Eagles don't want to go outside the organization to hire an offensive coordinator. Pederson trusts Staley and Groh and the chemistry inside the NovaCare Complex was tremendous during the Eagles' run to Super Bowl LII. 

Either way, Pederson is going to oversee the offense and call plays. Staley or Groh, if one or both are promoted, will handle some extra responsibility, but it'll still all be on Pederson. 

While Staley has been with the Eagles as a coach since 2011, working his way up from a quality control coach to running backs coach in 2013, Groh is a newcomer. He was added to the staff before the 2017 season to take over for Greg Lewis after the Eagles fired him. Groh did an impressive job last season, particularly with helping transform Nelson Agholor from a bust to one of the team's more explosive weapons. 

LeGarrette Blount makes his desire to stay in Philly clear

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LeGarrette Blount makes his desire to stay in Philly clear

LeGarrette Blount is fresh off of his third Super Bowl title and second in two years with two different teams. 

It sounds like he doesn't really want to go to a third team in three years. 

Blount, 31, played on a one-year deal worth around $1.25 million with the Eagles in 2017, but is set to become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year starts on March 14. He made it pretty clear on Sunday that he wouldn't mind coming back to Philly for another run. 

"It's early so we'll see," Blount said on NFL Network. 

"Obviously I like it a lot there. They like me a lot there. It's a mutual respect and a mutual agreement thing about how we feel about each other. Obviously, you guys know how I feel about the team, the guys; I love those guys. 

"I can't say enough about Duce (Staley), just for the simple fact for how well I was coached there and how good he helped me understand things. I feel like Duce is one of the best running back coaches, one of the best coaches I've ever had in my entire life. I obviously want to be a part of that for a while, so we'll see how it goes."

Blount began the year as the Eagles' top running back, but lost some of his role once the team traded for former Pro Bowler Jay Ajayi. But Blount still played a significant role in the Eagles' run to winning Super Bowl LII. 

During the season, he was the team's top rusher with 173 carries for 766 yards and two touchdowns. But then in Super Bowl LII, he had 14 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown, helping the Eagles to a 41-33 win over his former team, the Patriots. 

The Eagles are going to bring back Ajayi and second-year player Corey Clement. After that, things get murky. Blount and Darren Sproles (coming off injury) are both set to become free agents. 

Blount wasn't shy about his love for the Eagles during his interview on Sunday. He cited trust and how they handled the Ajayi trade with him as big reasons why. 

"They talked to me throughout the process of it happening," Blount said. "They were like, 'we're trading for Jay Ajayi, we just want to let you know.' Like I said, that's obviously another big thing for me, the honesty in that building and how open they are and how they don't keep any kind of secrets for you. They just tell you how it is. It's a big respect thing. Duce was the first person to reach out the me and be like, 'hey, we traded for Jay Ajayi. I just want to let you know.' Again, man, that's why it's a place that I love and I hope to stay there." 

Late in the six-and-a-half minute video, the crew brought out Clement while Blount was answering a question about the rookie. Blount laughed during the middle of his answer, but then got back on track and praised Clement. The two became very close during the 2017 season. 

After Blount's answer, Clement got to chat with his teammate and said getting to work with Blount was a "tremendous opportunity" and would clearly like to keep the core group together in the running back room next season. 

Obviously, it's not up to Clement, but Blount will play a big role and we already know what he thinks of the Eagles.