Eagles

Lethal 3-headed monster quickly developing in Eagles' backfield

Lethal 3-headed monster quickly developing in Eagles' backfield

The Eagles have a ton of high-profile offensive weapons, from Carson Wentz to Alshon Jeffery and now even Jay Ajayi

But it was an undrafted rookie who scored three touchdowns Sunday afternoon in the Eagles' 51-23 beating of the Broncos (see story).

"It was three?" Corey Clement asked, with a smile. "I was just playing football."

Clement, the 23-year-old Glassboro, New Jersey, native, caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. He ran for a two-yard touchdown in the third and added a four-yarder in the fourth. 

Three touchdowns in one game. That's impressive. 

He became the first Eagles rookie to score three touchdowns in the modern era, the first Eagles rookie to have a rushing TD and a receiving touchdown in a game since 1953 and the 19th rookie in NFL history to have two rushing TDs and one receiving touchdown in a game. 

But forget all the stats for a second. To make things simple, Clement is playing at an extremely high level. 

And even with the addition of Ajayi, he's going to have a role on the football team going forward. 

"Yeah, it just shows how the defense has to stay on their toes more," Clement said. "We have great weapons in this group. They have to look out for more backs now. We have me, we have (LeGarrette) Blount, we have (Wendell) Smallwood, we've got (Kenjon) Barner. We've got all these great assets on our offense that they really have to look out for."

Clement got his scoring going with the 15-yard touchdown catch in the first. That score made the game 17-3 and really began to put it away. On 3rd-and-10 in the red zone, Doug Pederson dialed up a screen pass that Clement and Carson Wentz executed to perfection. 

Clement chipped Von Miller off the edge before turning in time to catch the pass and follow a mammoth block from Brandon Brooks into the end zone. 

"It's gotta be quick," Clement said. "Once he goes by, I'm looking at Carson and he looked at me, gave me a nice ball. Caught it and turned inside, spotted my blockers, allowed the defenders to come into me and just fed off my blockers."

Clement wasn't known as a big pass-catcher at Wisconsin but has proven in the NFL that he has the ability. The same goes for his pass protection. The Eagles now rely on him quite often in third-down situations. 

There were 30 running backs taken in the 2017 draft and Clement wasn't one of them. But through nine games, he already has five touchdowns. Clement is the fourth undrafted player in Eagles history to have five touchdowns as a rookie. The other three players played in the '40s and '50s. 

"He's grown a bunch," Wentz said. "Seeing Corey all through training camp, he's just a guy that wanted to learn. He's just always ready whenever his number's called. Today, he made the most of them. He's a heckuva back, heckuva player, heckuva teammate as well. I just love seeing those backs celebrating when the other guy scores."

Clement knew immediately the last three-touchdown game he had was as a senior at Wisconsin against Illinois. He had just two three-touchdown performances in 39 college games. 

With Ajayi in the mix, it's unclear exactly how snaps and carries will be split once the Pro Bowler is completely caught up with the Eagles' offense. But Clement has shown he deserves to still be involved.  

"Once Jay got into the room, we noticed that he is definitely a competitor," Clement said. "A great contribution to a group means a lot. I am pretty sure everyone on the outside thought it was going to create some turmoil in our room but at the same time, we are having fun."

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

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USA Today Images/AP Images

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.”

Eagles' Dannell Ellerbe, Will Beatty playing catch-up with new team

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USA Today Images

Eagles' Dannell Ellerbe, Will Beatty playing catch-up with new team

After signing with the Eagles about a week and a half ago, Will Beatty has been working hard to catch up. 

He's learning a new offense, new terminology, new teammates. 

And a new building. 

"I'm still trying to figure out where everything is here," Beatty said. "A lot of the doors here are not labeled, so it's like 'where does this door lead?'"

Eventually, the 32-year-old offensive tackle finds where he's going. For the most part, he just tries to follow his teammates. When he's the only player around, he begins to worry and checks the schedule to make sure he's not missing something. 

Beatty isn't alone. He was brought in last week a day after the Eagles signed veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Both players are veterans over 30. Both players have won a Super Bowl. And both are playing catch-up. 

How has it been going? 

"Really good," head coach Doug Pederson said. "In both cases, picking up the offense with Will and the defense with Dannell. Dannell has probably gotten a couple of reps with our defense in the past couple of weeks. Both of them are doing really, really well."

While Ellerbe has gotten some practice reps, don't expect him to have a role with the defense just yet. Pederson on Friday morning said Ellerbe's role is still to get comfortable with the defense. 

While Jim Schwartz said Ellerbe was going to learn all three linebacker positions, Ellerbe has been focusing more on MIKE and SAM. The former Saint said he likes to learn the entire concept of the defense. The biggest hurdle is learning the new terminology. 

"I've been sitting out since OTAs, so it's been a while," Ellerbe said. "It's like riding a bike. Just repetition."

Both players were inactive against the Cowboys, less than a week after their arrivals. It is yet to be seen if either will have roles down the stretch. 

When Beatty eventually finds his way to the practice field, he has been working with the Eagles' second-team offense, which means he's going against the Eagles' first-team defense every day. That's a good way to shake off some rust. 

For now, second-year player Joe Walker has been playing the MIKE position in the Eagles' base defense. If Ellerbe were to ever get on the field, it would likely be in that spot. But Walker has been playing OK since Jordan Hicks went down. 

During meetings, Beatty pretty much stays quiet when he has questions. He writes down what he doesn't understand and then brings it to offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland afterward so he doesn't slow down the entire group. It's basically like seeing a teacher after class for extra help. 

One of the tough parts about joining a team in the middle of the season is everyone is already settled into a routine. Beatty and Ellerbe are working just to catch up. 

"It's a little different, but would much rather be doing this than anything else," Beatty said. "This is a great organization. Everyone welcomed me with open arms."