Eagles

Eagles unleash 4-headed RB monster vs. Cowboys

Eagles unleash 4-headed RB monster vs. Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Forget the three-headed monster of 2003. The Eagles have somehow invented a four-headed monster. And somehow it works.

On Sunday, the Eagles got contributions from four running backs in their 37-9 demolition of the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium (see Roob's observations). And that’s not supposed to happen.

New acquisition Jay Ajayi again showed tremendous explosiveness, gaining 84 of his 91 yards in the second half, including a 71-yard scamper run to set up a third-quarter TD. LeGarrette Blount had his best game in a while with 57 yards on 13 carries. 

Rookie Corey Clement once again did his thing, rushing just six times for 50 yards and a touchdown and also catching a two-point conversion. And even Kenjon Barner had a role Sunday night, with a career-long 22-yard catch and then his first touchdown of the season to open the game.

Four backs in uniform. All contributed. Not easy to do.

"Those guys all bring a different skill set," Carson Wentz said. "They do such a good job. The big boys up front lead the way with that. We can spread those guys out and use them at what they're best at. They make my job a heck of a lot easier."

Ajayi was getting 20 carries per game with the Dolphins. He has only 15 in two games with the Eagles but has certainly made the most of them. 

He’s the third player in NFL history with consecutive games of eight or fewer carries and 77 or more rushing yards. Former Eagle Felix Jones did it for the Cowboys in 2009 and Warren Williams for the Steelers in 1990.

Ajayi is also the first Eagle since Ricky Watters in 1996 with runs from scrimmage of 45 yards or more in consecutive games.

“It’s different,” Ajayi said. “It’s definitely not what I’m used to, but at the same time, it’s exciting to see all of us make plays. For me, whenever the number is called, just make your plays count and take advantage of your opportunities."

Sunday’s game was the Eagles’ first in 56 years in which three running backs each ran for at least 50 yards.

Last time it happened was also in Dallas — at the Cotton Bowl. On Oct. 22, 1961, Billy Ray Barnes [89 yards], Timmy Brown [66] and Ted Dean [76] did it in a 43-7 win over the Cowboys.

“Everybody has their role,” Clement said. “I have a specific role, LaGarrette, (Wendell) Smallwood, Kenyon, Jay, we’re not selfish out there. To have four guys in the rotation, it means a lot because defenses really can’t keep up with the style of running that we have.”

When training camp began, Blount was the No. 1 back and Darren Sproles, Smallwood and rookie Donnel Pumphrey were next in line. Of that group, only Blount was even in uniform Sunday night.

And they still ran for 215 yards, including 180 in the second half.

Ajayi and Barner both joined the team during the season, and Clement just keeps earning more and more playing time and more and more touches as an undrafted rookie. Blount has the fifth-highest per-carry average in the NFL among backs with at least 100 carries.

It’s a unique group. They each have different skill sets and they each have different roles and they each seem to genuinely not care who makes the big play.

And judging by the laughs and good-natured ribbing and trash talk in the locker room after Sunday's win, they all genuinely like each other.

“We’re all focused on ‘we,’ we’re not focused on ‘I,’” Barner said. “We all understand our roles, we all want to see the other guys do well, and we’re all unselfish. It starts with (position coach) Duce (Staley), who really sets the tone in the (meeting) room.”

The Eagles are now second in the NFL with 145 rushing yards per game, second only to the Jaguars' 161. They're tied for fourth at 4.6 yards per run

Their 2,313 rushing yards are their most through 10 games since 1949, when they had 2,317.

And they're doing it all without anybody on pace to rush for 900 yards.

“It all starts with preparation and everybody knows their role,” Blount said. “Everybody has a significant role on this team. All the backs do — me, Jay, Wendell, Corey, Kenjon, all the way down. Everybody has a role and they’re good at it and they all embrace it."

Doug Pederson needs to give his new QB some help

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USA Today Images

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.

The case for and against Carson Wentz still winning MVP

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The case for and against Carson Wentz still winning MVP

The case for Carson Wentz still winning MVP (Corey Seidman)

Prior to Monday Night Football, Bovada listed Tom Brady as the MVP favorite and Carson Wentz was no longer listed. Had the Patriots blown out the Dolphins as many expected, Brady would have surged into the MVP lead.

But he didn't. The Patriots' offense couldn't get anything going, failing to convert a single third down for the first time since 1991.

And even though Brady will probably play three more games this season than Carson Wentz, I still think Wentz can and will win MVP.

There are a bunch of reasons why.

1. Wentz led his team to an 11-2 record and put it in position to clinch the top seed in the conference, and the Eagles don't even have to be perfect the rest of the way to do it.

2. The key play that could end up enabling the Eagles to get home-field advantage through the playoffs was that gutsy touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery. Which Wentz delivered with a torn ACL. And which set the Eagles' franchise record for TD passes in a season. 

That kind of mystique matters come awards time.

3. Brady was a legitimate contender for the MVP award last season when he played just 12 games because of the four-game suspension. He finished second in MVP voting with 10 votes, behind Matt Ryan's 25.

4. Aside from Wentz and Brady, who are even the top candidates for MVP this season? Russell Wilson? His team isn't even currently in the playoffs. Antonio Brown? A wide receiver has never won MVP, even though Brown is deserving of breaking that trend. If Brown goes off against the Patriots on Sunday, it might make him the frontrunner. 

Standing in his way, however, is the tremendous success of his own teammate, Le'Veon Bell. Bell and Brown each have nine total touchdowns, and Bell has 1,684 yards from scrimmage compared to Brown's 1,518. How would you justify giving it to Brown over his equally deserving teammate?

If one of Brady, Bell or Brown has an enormous game Sunday, they could catapult to the top of the list. But if they have just an average game, Wentz will remain toward the top.

5. Voter fatigue is real with Brady, and this isn't even shaping up to be one of his best seasons. His 105.2 passer rating is just the fifth-highest of his career. His 27-to-6 touchdown to interception ratio is just the fifth-best of his career. His yards per attempt are fourth-best.

• • •

The case against Carson Wentz still winning MVP (Dave Zangaro)

The Eagles haven't had an MVP since the 1960 season, when Norm Van Brocklin took the honor. 

They'll have to wait at least one more season. 

Because when Wentz went down on Sunday night, his MVP chances went with it. 

Sure, the Eagles' quarterback had a really good first 13 games. His team went 11-2. He threw for 3,296 yards, with 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Those are really good numbers. 

But he just didn't play enough. 

The last time an NFL MVP played just 13 or fewer games was 1989, when Joe Montana won his first of two straight. Since then, of the 29 MVPs all 29 have played at least 14 games and 23 of them have played all 16. 

Sure, Brady finished second in MVP voting last season after playing just 12 games. But he didn't win it. And that was after 12 games in which he threw for over 3,500 yards, with 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions. His passer rating in those 12 games was 112.2. Wentz's this season was 101.9. 

What's even more notable was that Brady's 12 games in 2016 came in the last 12 games of the season after missing the first four because of suspension. When voting happened, Brady was still on the forefront of everyone's mind, leading his team into the playoffs. Wentz won't be forgotten, but recency has even more pull than mystique in voting. 

And then there are the candidates this year. Brady is the clear frontrunner. He's having another tremendous season. No, he didn't perform well on Monday night, but do you really expect him to not play well down the stretch? 

And the crazy thing about Brady is he's widely considered the greatest quarterback of all time, but has just two MVP awards. To put that in perspective, Peyton Manning has five, while Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas and Brett Favre each have three. Brady is tied with Steve Young, Kurt Warner, Joe Montana and Aaron Rodgers with two. 

So in some cases, voter fatigue might be a real thing, but in this case, it would make sense to see Brady get another one. 

Really, the way Wentz's worth to the Eagles would easily be proven is if the Eagles completely collapse down the stretch with Nick Foles. But with games against the Giants, Raiders and Cowboys, that seems unlikely. The Eagles win, Wentz loses. 

But there's always next year ... and the year after that.