Eagles

Eagles still have plenty to play for on Christmas

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USA Today Images

Eagles still have plenty to play for on Christmas

The Eagles still have something to play for on Monday night. 

Because the Vikings beat the Packers, 16-0, Saturday night, the Eagles still haven't clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

If the Eagles win Monday against the Raiders, they'll clinch that top spot for the first time since the 2004 season. Even if they don't win on Christmas, either a Vikings' loss or a win against the Cowboys in the regular season finale would be enough to get the No. 1 seed, which is pretty important (see story)

Head coach Doug Pederson claimed the plan for Monday's game wasn't going to change even if the Vikings lost. The Eagles were always going to play to win against the Raiders. 

"Win the game," Pederson said Saturday morning about his plan for Monday's game. "To play our best players and win. I think it's important that they continue to play. If we're in that position, if we're fortunate enough to be in that position to rest, I'll make a decision at that time. But I think it's important in these next couple of games to continue to play."

But if the Eagles win on Christmas Day, the last game of the regular season against Cowboys would be meaningless. Pederson in the last week has talked about the fine line of resting players but making sure they don't lose their edge heading into the playoffs. 

The interesting part of it is that Nick Foles could definitely use more time with the starting offense, especially his skill players. But the Eagles would ideally like to get backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld his first NFL reps before the playoffs begin. 

Corey Clement adding element Eagles didn't expect

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Corey Clement adding element Eagles didn't expect

Corey Clement corrected himself.

His initial answer, when asked how far he's come as a receiver this year, was, "I think I've really come a long way."

Then he stopped, smiled and reconsidered.

“I think in a funny way I don’t think I made that big a leap," he said. "Because I always knew I could catch."

Clement never caught the ball at Glassboro High. Never caught the ball at Wisconsin. Never caught the ball during the regular season.

So guess who the Eagles' leading receiver was in their playoff win over the Falcons.

Who else?

"Five catches … that's not just a career high, it's probably my highest in life," Clement said laughing. "My lifetime high."

Clement caught five passes for 31 yards in the Eagles' 15-10 win over the Falcons at the Linc. The numbers may seem modest, but considering that Clement had only 29 catches in 39 games in four years in Madison and caught just 10 passes during the regular season, it's eye-opening.

Clement became the first undrafted rookie running back in NFL history to catch five passes in a playoff game and became only the ninth running back in Eagles postseason history to catch five passes in a game.

“[He's come] really far," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "We've said it all year, that's been a surprise, a running back from Wisconsin who is running power [in college]. You’re not thinking he's going to come in here and be your third-down back. But he's worked very hard at it and really made a role for himself."

Clement is a very good ball carrier — he averaged 4.3 yards per carry during the regular season — but on a team with Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount, he's not going to get very many carries. He had just one for five yards last Saturday, on one of the Eagles' last plays of the game.

But none of the Eagles' other backs are much in the way of receivers. In fact, this was the first year since 1956 the Eagles didn't have a running back with at least 15 catches. And they were the only NFL team without a back catching 15 passes.

Wendell Smallwood is probably their best receiving back, but he's been inactive since the Eagles acquired Ajayi.
 
"I know in college I had one season (junior year) where I had only two catches," Clement said. "It just shows you that some of the college coaches got to give you an opportunity to catch.

"But I knew the opportunity I was walking into. It’s a running school and that’s the offense we ran, so I knew I wasn’t going to catch much.

"I’m happy with where I came from and I wouldn’t want it to be any different, but I know what I can do. I know I can catch the ball, but at the same time I know I can get a lot better at it as well.”

Clement never caught more than three passes in a game in college and had only three catches in the Eagles' first 10 games (two for touchdowns) before recording seven in the last six regular-season games.

A functioning screen game can be a terrific tool to offset an aggressive, pursuing defense like the Vikings' highly regarded unit. It's something the Eagles have been missing much of the year.

So Clement's emergence as a legitimate receiving back is timely on an offense that's lacked punch since Carson Wentz got hurt.

"First of all, he's getting better in route running," Doug Pederson said. "We've got to be smart as a staff on how we use our running backs. People can start keying in on certain guys and certain personnel groups, so we've got to make sure that we mix things up.

"He's one of those guys that I feel like we're getting more comfortable with throwing him the football whether it's a screen or down the field, and you saw a couple out of the backfield to him and one big third-down play there. He catches well and he's done a nice job."

Still, this is all new to Clement.

And he's learning as he goes.

"I’m getting a lot of help from (Nick) Foles and the other receivers on how to pinpoint a ball at a better location, so I think the ball is slowed down a lot for me in the air as far as looking it in and keeping it secure once I get it," he said.

"There’s so many fine points that I can keep working on, but I think as far as making a tremendous leap, I think I’m in a good position to keep excelling, especially going into the offseason."

Clement's five catches last Saturday are the fourth-most in Eagles history by a rookie in a playoff game, behind Keith Jackson and Jeremy Maclin (seven) and DeSean Jackson (six). 

The previous record, believe it or not, was two, shared by Heath Sherman, Correll Buckhalter and Brian Westbrook.

“I think it helps me stay on the field, just to show them I can run after the catch as well and not basically be a rock out there catching the ball," Clement said.

"Just showing versatility and staying calm out there is big, because I know I can catch, but if you make the game bigger than what it is, you’ll start doing weird crap. So I kind of just stay to the fundamentals and just play fast."

Eagles' D or Vikings' D? Cox ready to answer

Eagles' D or Vikings' D? Cox ready to answer

Before the Eagles faced the Falcons, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was ready to prove himself. He wanted his high-priced defensive line to show it was worth the money, and he wanted to lead the way. 

Cox barely left the field on Saturday. 

And he dominated. 

"Me taking a lot of snaps, I get in a whole lot of rhythm," Cox said on Wednesday. "I think that affected my play and everybody else just followed. 

"I just said to myself, 'Go out and take over the game and everybody else will follow.' I think it kind of rubbed off on them."

The Eagles' Pro Bowl defensive tackle finished the divisional round game with seven combined tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. He led the way for the Eagles' defense in the 15-10 win. 

Cox was an absolute game-wrecker. 

"He was a man on a mission and just took a lot of it upon himself and got the rest of the D-line going a little bit," head coach Doug Pederson said. 

The Eagles went into Saturday's game with just three defensive tackles active. While Tim Jernigan (29 snaps) and Beau Allen (26 snaps) played 46 and 41 percent, respectively, Cox played 57 of 63 snaps (90 percent). 

Cox knew he was going to play a ton in that game. He was well-rested after the long layoff and was ready for his second career playoff game. 

"I was super excited," Cox said. "I wasn't coming off the field. I think I played 57 snaps. I wasn't tired. Beau always asks me how you do it. I just find a way."

The Eagles' $100 million man needs to find a way to do it again. 

On Wednesday, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer called Cox an "outstanding player," but Zimmer has some pretty impressive players on his defense too. The Vikings have the top-ranked defense in the NFL with an impressive defensive line that features pass-rusher Everson Griffen and big veteran tackle Linval Joseph. 

"I think in order for us to win this game, man, our defense is going to have to play really good," Cox said. "We know — and everybody else knows — I think this game is going to be one possession. We gotta get some takeaways on defense. 

"But at the end of the day, it's going to come down to is our D-line better than theirs? I mean, they got a dominant D-line, we have a dominant D-line. And we'll see who shows up on Sunday."

This week, the Eagles are back on their disrespect kick. For the second straight playoff game, they're going to be home underdogs as the No. 1 seed. They used it as fuel before the Atlanta game and they're going to use it as fuel as they get ready for the Vikings. 

There are going to be a bunch of dog masks inside the Linc on Sunday. 

"At the end of the day, respect is not given," Cox said. "We have to go take it like we've been doing all year. We're ready to go out and dominate."