Eagles

Eagles somehow put together a winner overnight

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Eagles somehow put together a winner overnight

Team chemistry is such an elusive thing and, once you finally find it, such a fragile thing.

What was the difference between the 2004 and 2005 Eagles? It wasn't talent. It was a solitary wide receiver who was intent on destroying the chemistry of a Super Bowl team because he wasn't happy with his contract.

No sport requires this level of teamwork, and no sport requires this level of unselfishness. With very few exceptions, you really need a special group of people for sustained success in the NFL, and that's why figuring out what kind of person you're getting in the draft or free agency has become just as important as figuring out what kind of player you're getting.

Which brings us to the 2017 Eagles, who by any measure are the best team in the NFL as we arrive at the midpoint of the season.

They're rolling along at 7-1 with a six-game winning streak, with those six wins coming by an average of 11½ points. You know all the facts and figures. The NFL's fourth-ranked offense and 10th-ranked defense, the hottest quarterback in the league, the stingiest run defense in the league in seven years.

Here's another number: 22.

That's how many new players are on the roster.

And that may be the most remarkable number of all.

GM Howie Roseman and vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas took a 7-9 team with a rookie coach and quarterback and instead of just hoping that another year together would turn them into a winner, they gutted the thing.

Some 42 percent of the 53-man roster that will face the Broncos on Sunday was not part of the 2016 Eagles. 

Think about all the key guys on last year's team the Eagles cut ties with.

The leading rusher and leading wide receiver. A former first-round pick. Both starting corners. Two defensive line starters who had played at a high level here. And so on.

And think about the new guys. How many key contributors on this team weren't even here last year?

Derek Barnett, Mack Hollins and Rasul Douglas came in the draft. Alshon Jeffery, LeGarrette Blount, Patrick Robinson, Corey Graham and Chris Long signed as free agents. Tim Jernigan, Ronald Darby and Dexter McDougle arrived via trades.

Corey Clement was an undrafted rookie. Jake Elliott was plucked off the Bengals' practice squad. Kenjon Barner was home in California out of work.

We've seen the Eagles make wholesale changes in the past and it didn't go so well. But this group is different. The Eagles managed to rebuild the roster and truly reshape the franchise while also creating a remarkable chemistry and maintaining the unselfish, team-first culture that Doug Pederson has been crafting.

To turn over nearly half the roster and emerge with a singular unit in which new guys and old guys are all working together for the common good is an incredibly difficult thing to do. But Howie and Joe pulled it off virtually overnight. And Doug certainly deserves a ton of credit for taking all these disparate parts he was given and helping mold them into a unified whole.

One thing most of these guys have in common is that they're winners.

Blount and Long won a Super Bowl last year. Torrey Smith and Graham won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. Tennessee went 25-14 when Barnett was there. West Virginia was 18-8 with Douglas on the field. Wisconsin was 40-9 with Clement. North Carolina went 19-8 in Mack Hollins' two years as a starter.

This was not an accident. Roseman and Douglas wanted a locker room full of players who not only are talented but also have tremendous character and understand the commitment it takes to win.

Put enough guys like that together and you have a pretty good chance to build that winning culture all coaches and front office executives talk about but very few know how to build.

It's happened here and it's happened faster than anybody anticipated. Even the people that put this all together.

The Eagles went out and found 53 seemingly random puzzle pieces, and halfway through the season, it sure looks like they all fit together perfectly.

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.