Eagles

Extra emphasis on special teams bails Eagles out

usa-kamu-grugier-hill.jpg
USA Today Images

Extra emphasis on special teams bails Eagles out

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Eagles blocked three kicks Sunday, and they needed every one of them to secure a 34-29 victory over the New York Giants (see breakdown).

Derek Barnett blocked an extra point in the first quarter, a play that wound up putting the Giants behind the eight ball for the rest of the game. Kamu Grugier-Hill blocked a punt in the second quarter, which led to an Eagles touchdown. Then in the fourth quarter, Malcolm Jenkins blocked a field goal that could have given New York the lead.

It was, by far, the Eagles' best special teams performance of the season to date, one in which the unit had been preparing for all week.

"All week we knew we could do things here, pick apart them here," Grugier-Hill said, "so we went in with a really good plan and we executed."

It could've been the game plan devised by special teams coordinator Dave Fipp, or the hard work of the players in the film room and on the practice field (see Roob's observations). Or, as Barnett suggests, it might've been the Eagles finally playing to their capabilities.

“We executed," Barnett said. "That's about it. There's nothing else behind it.”

The Eagles' special teams had been uncharacteristically poor over the previous five contests. At one point, the coverage units allowed a kick or punt return of 39 yards or more in three straight games. But the biggest miscue of all came last week in Los Angeles — a blocked punt that nearly helped swing the outcome in the Rams' favor.

For a franchise that has routinely fielded some of the best special teams units in the league, the performance was unacceptable.

“Our standard is higher," Grugier-Hill said. "The last three or four years, we've been the top special teams in the league, so to have those down weeks, we've been really putting emphasis on everyone elevating their game and doing better.”

The emphasis paid off. The Eagles made a bit of history, becoming the first NFL team to block an extra point, a field goal and a punt in the same game since the Buffalo Bills did it in 1991.

More importantly, the Eagles were able to swing the momentum in their favor time and time again, and ultimately, they pick up the win as a result.

"We knew from some things that we saw on tape that we had a couple guys that we could attack," Jenkins said.

In addition to the game plan, the Eagles shored up their special teams this week with the re-signing of Bryan Braman. Furthermore, the Giants aren't exactly known for fielding in a quality unit in any phase of the kicking game.

The Eagles had a plan. They had the personnel in place. They were up against inferior competition.

But it all came back to execution (see report card).

“Just getting off the rock, playing physical, not stopping and just keep on going forward," Barnett said. "Schematically? I don't know the answer. That's a coach question. Whatever they do, we do up front, and if everybody executes it — it's all 11 of us, not just one — if we all execute, we'll get the outcome we want.”

Braman, who signed Tuesday and was back in action for the first time since 2016, gave a similar evaluation.

"Everybody comes off the ball like they're the ones that are going to be able to block it," Braman said, "and the scheme and everything ended up paying off."

The Eagles' stellar special teams performance also happened to be timely, as it was the first game without injured starting quarterback Carson Wentz.

Coming down the stretch, the club will be counting on contributions from all three phases to overcome the loss of a leader and an MVP-caliber player.

On Sunday, special teams held up their end of the bargain and then some.

“When a starter like Carson goes down, everyone needs to elevate their game," Grugier-Hill said. "It's not just defense, it's defense or even offensive guys, they need to individually pick up their game.”

Eagles aim to master late 1st-round picks

ap-eagles-howie-roseman.jpg
AP Images

Eagles aim to master late 1st-round picks

The Eagles will be at a disadvantage on April 26, when the first round of the 2018 draft begins in Dallas. Thanks to winning the Super Bowl — remember that? It wasn’t a dream — they have the 32nd and last pick of the first round. 

It’s a disadvantage they hope to have every year. 

“Yeah, that’s the goal,” Eagles VP of player personnel Joe Douglas said on Thursday. “Hopefully we’ll be picking in the late 20s and early 30s [every year].” 

There’s an art to hitting in the second half of the first round and it’s obviously harder to find success there than it is in the top half. The good news for the Eagles is that Douglas learned under Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome, who is one of the best general managers in the NFL. Newsome’s team has often picked late in the first round and he’s often been able to find some great talent in that range. 

Ed Reed was picked at No. 24, Todd Heap at 31, Ben Grubbs at 29. There are more too. 

“Ozzie is patient,” Douglas said. “Ozzie Newsome is a Hall of Famer for the Cleveland Browns and he should be a Hall of Famer for the Baltimore Ravens as a GM. He’s the absolute best. His first two picks (Reed and Terrell Suggs) are first-ballot Hall of Famers. He was able to have great success in the 20s. Those players you specifically named, they were not a move up or move down guys. Those were guys that Ozzie was patient and he let the board come to him. Some of those picks were met with greater fanfare than others.”

They can’t all be hits, of course. In 2013, the Ravens took safety Matt Elam, who played in 41 games for Baltimore in three seasons, but was out of the league by 2017. Many consider him a bust. It happens. But it’s hard to argue with the Ravens’ body of work. 

The Eagles haven’t been nearly as consistent picking in the 20s in recent years. Nelson Agholor was No. 20 in 2015 and finally fulfilled his potential last season. But before then, Marcus Smith was 26 in 2014 and Danny Watkins was 23 in 2011. The last time the Eagles came off a Super Bowl appearance, they picked DT Mike Patterson with the 31st pick in 2005. A decent player, never a star. 

Douglas thought there were a lot of hits late in the first round of last year’s draft, but admitted it “varies year to year.” 

For now, the Eagles own the 32nd pick, but they’re definitely not ruling out a possible trade. On Thursday, de facto GM Howie Roseman said the team is “open for business.” 

There’s also plenty of appeal for other teams who might want a specific position with No. 32 because of a possible fifth-year option in their contracts. A few years ago, the Vikings traded for No. 32 to get Teddy Bridgewater. This week, the groundwork for possible draft day trades will happen, Roseman said. The Eagles will have contact with other teams to gauge their interest in moving up or down around their area of the first round. 

If the Eagles don’t move up or down, they feel comfortable at 32. 

“I guess when you’re picking, any number you’re picking, whether it’s 14 last year or 32, you’ve got to have 32 guys to be excited to take,” Douglas said. “Right now, we have 32 guys we’d be fired up to get. How it plays out, we’ll find out.”

Coming off first Super Bowl win, Eagles aim to crush complacency

usa-malcolm-jenkins-eagles.jpg
USA Today Images

Coming off first Super Bowl win, Eagles aim to crush complacency

The Eagles on Monday released a short video montage of players returning to the NovaCare Complex for the start of the team’s offseason workout program, the first time the team has been back together since winning Super Bowl LII. 

Playing over the video is a snippet from Doug Pederson’s speech to the team, in which he talks about sacrifice and starting over at ground zero. 

The 30-second video then ends with a shot of the Eagles’ new Super Bowl champion banner hanging in the weight room, while Pederson delivers the message, “The new normal starts today.” 

The Eagles have finally won a Super Bowl, so now what? 

Well, now they have to battle complacency on their quest to make a parade down Broad Street an annual occurrence. 

“For me, when I hear the ‘new norm,’ I’m not thinking about the end result, the championships and the parades and all that,” veteran leader Malcolm Jenkins said on Tuesday. “I’m thinking about the work it took to get to where we were. How we started last year in April and grinded and competed throughout. For me, that’s kind of the new norm and the standard and the base that we’re trying to start from this year as we try to defend that title.” 

Unlike many of his teammates, this isn’t the first time Jenkins is coming off a championship. The year after his Saints won the Super Bowl during his rookie season, they were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round. 

Being that this isn’t the first time Jenkins is in this situation, he said he knows some of the “pitfalls” that come with trying to avoid the Super Bowl hangover. Aside from the obvious month less of recovery time, the Eagles also need to shift their mindset from celebration back to work. Jenkins doesn’t think that will be a problem. He thinks teams get their attitude from leaders. He thinks these Eagles want to “create something special.” He thinks they know how to do it. 

One thing that should help is getting back several key players who weren’t able to play in last year’s Super Bowl because of injuries. Their drive will be there. 

“I know for myself and (Jordan) Hicks and (Chris) Maragos, Jason Peters, it didn’t sit well with them either,” Carson Wentz said. “As much as we love our teammates and we were excited to see it, we wanted to be out there. We know that will kick things into gear. I don’t think complacency would have been an issue regardless, but I think that will definitely help.”

Jenkins this week didn’t want to even talk about repeating yet because there’s so long to go before we even know what the team will look like. 

But repeating remains the ultimate goal.  

“We’re extremely hungry for sustained success in this city,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “We’ve tasted it one time and that’s something you never want to give up. We’re hungry to repeat. … I don’t think we’ll ever have that mindset that we’ve arrived as a football team or as a city.”