Eagles

A peek behind curtain shows Eagles needed RB like Ajayi

A peek behind curtain shows Eagles needed RB like Ajayi

He's 24 years old, he's got a cap-friendly contract, he had a Pro Bowl season a year ago, and the Eagles are a better football team today than they were yesterday.

You never want to give away draft picks, but this is a football team that's on the brink of some pretty special things, and when you're in the position the Eagles are in — 7-1 with a six-game winning streak and your eye on the No. 1 seed in the NFC — you do everything you can to get better.

When you look at the Eagles' collection of running backs, you have a bunch of guys who've contributed in various ways this year but also a bunch of guys who also carry significant question marks.

LeGarrette Blount has had some big games, but he turns 31 in December and is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry the last two weeks. Wendell Smallwood has generally looked good when he's gotten a chance to play, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy. Corey Clement has contributed more than anybody ever dreamed he would, but he's still an undrafted rookie with a 3.6 career rushing average. 

Kenjon Barner has helped ease the absence of Darren Sproles with his punt return ability, but he's essentially a 28-year-old journeyman who wasn't even on a roster a month ago. The Eagles used a fourth-round pick on Donnel Pumphrey, but … who knows what they have there.

The Eagles have been winning, but let's look deeper into their running game.

The first four games of the season, the Eagles averaged 4.7 yards per carry, which was fourth-best in the league. Over the last month, that number dropped to 3.7 yards per carry, 21st in the league.

In these last four wins, they've rushed for 127 or fewer yards in each game with a per-carry average of 3.8 or worse all four weeks, something they hadn't done since 2009. 

And three of their seven-longest runs these last four weeks have been courtesy of Carson Wentz.

They've run it well at times and each back has had his moments. But let's face it: The Eagles haven't had a big-time running back since Chip got rid of Shady. DeMarco Murray never fit in and didn't want to be here. Ryan Mathews ran extremely hard but was injury-prone. Blount is nearing the end of his career and who knows how much he has left. 

In Ajayi, the Eagles get a kid who last year ran for 1,272 yards with a 4.9 average and eight touchdowns and over the last two years has the fifth-most rushing yards in the NFL — 51 fewer than Shady and 78 more than Murray.

The last two weeks, Ajayi's numbers have been ugly — a 2.1 average on 36 carries. But the week before that, he ran for 130 yards in a win over the Falcons in Atlanta. 

He's been out there without a lot of help, toiling in the NFL's 32nd-ranked offense with an awful passing game and a terrible offensive line. And I'd be much more concerned about a statistical dip with a 30-year-old back like Blount than a 24-year-old like Ajayi.

The initial reaction with these sort of moves is … why? Everything is going so well with the Eagles, why would you make such a dramatic change?

But the great teams are the ones that are able to identify their deficiencies, even while they're winning games. Howie Roseman has a track record of bold moves, and you don't make bold moves only when you're losing. 

If you feel that hidden behind that glossy 7-1 record you don't have the running attack to win a Super Bowl, you make this move.

But the beauty of this trade is that while it helps in the short term — it makes the Eagles a better team for the next few months — it really answers a nagging question for next year, too. Blount won't be here, and as promising as Smallwood and Clement have looked at times, neither has proven he can be a lead back. 

Ajayi has.

Now, to be fair, Ajayi is not very good in blitz pickup, which has been a problem for the Eagles' backs this year, and he's never been much of a receiver, which ideally you want in this offense. Dolphins coach Adam Gase has been critical of Ajayi and the other Miami backs lately for trying to hit home runs instead of sticking to the play call and running disciplined.

But the Eagles got better Tuesday. And when you're 7-1 and you get better, that's a really good place to be.

Breaking down Eagles' 2018 Pro Bowl chances

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Breaking down Eagles' 2018 Pro Bowl chances

Pro Bowl voting began this past week, and ideally, the Eagles won't have anybody actually playing in the game.
 
The 2018 Pro Bowl is scheduled for Jan. 28 -- a week before the Super Bowl -- and players from the Super Bowl-bound teams will be headed to Minneapolis that weekend, not Orlando, where the Pro Bowl will be held this year.
 
But with the Eagles sitting at 8-1 heading into Sunday's game against the Cowboys, there's a good chance they'll have a sizable contingent selected to the annual exhibition.

Let's take an early look at the Eagles' locks, hopefuls and longshots for 2018 Pro Bowl honors.
 
And remember, once again, the NFL is picking Pro Bowl teams based on conference.
 
Locks
Carson Wentz: Wentz is a lock to make his first Pro Bowl, which would make him the fourth Eagles quarterback in the last 10 years to receive the honor, following Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Nick Foles. No other team has had more than two. Interesting that the Eagles have had only four players make a Pro Bowl team within their first two years since 1990 - Donovan McNabb in 2000, DeSean Jackson in 2009, Nick Foles in 2013 and Cody Parkey in 2014.
 
Fletcher Cox: The only lock from the defense, which is more of a statement on the brand of team defense the Eagles are playing these days than anything else. This will be Cox's third Pro Bowl, something only five Eagles defensive linemen have ever achieved -- Reggie White (seven), Hugh Douglas (three), William Fuller (three), Charlie Johnson (three) and Floyd Peters (three).
 
Zach Ertz: It's always tricky for players to get to that first Pro Bowl, but it's hard to imagine Ertz not getting picked. Despite missing the Broncos game, he's been the best tight end in the NFC. He leads all NFC tight ends in catches and yards and is tied for the lead in TDs with Seattle's Jimmy Graham with six. Barring a huge dropoff, Ertz is a lock.
 
Hopefuls
Lane Johnson: Johnson has played at a consistently high level, but a few things are working against him. His two suspensions shouldn't be a factor, but they won't help his chances. Players are branded a certain way, and Johnson has to overcome a league-wide reputation as a guy who's tested positive twice. But if it's based on level of play, he'll go.
 
Jason Kelce: Kelce probably has a better chance than Johnson, just because he's a already a two-time pick and has that Pro Bowl reputation around the league. He made the team last year despite not having a very good year. Kelce has been exceptional this year and is in the middle of the No. 1 offense in the NFL. Close to a lock.
 
Brandon Graham: Graham once again has everything but the sacks. He's played very good football, consistently pressured the quarterback, been exceptional against the run, but … it's all about the sacks with defensive ends. He has 5.0, which is a good number after nine games and just 1 1/2 shy of his career-high of 6 1/2 from 2015, but nine NFC defensive ends have more. Have they played better than Graham? Probably not. But he needs to get to double digits to really have a good shot at making his first Pro Bowl.
 
Malcolm Jenkins: Jenkins made his first Pro Bowl in 2015 and should have made the team last year, but didn't. He's having a great year but doesn't have any interceptions and he's going to probably need at least two or three to get himself in the picture. What he does have going for him is that he's extremely popular among his fellow players. His activism, his strong voice within the NFLPA and his reputation as a guy who's going to fight for player rights will really help. That stuff shouldn't matter but it does.
 
Longshots
Brandon Brooks: Brooks is in his seventh year and has never made a Pro Bowl. The longer you play without making one, the harder it is to get picked. Especially at a non-skill position. But he's sure deserving. That whole right side of the O-line is with Kelce, Brooks and Johnson.
 
Jalen Mills: This is going to come down to interceptions. Mills needs to overcome the fact that he was never a big-name college guy, wasn't a high draft pick and his personality might bug some opposing wide receivers - the ones who vote for CBs. But he's got three interceptions, and right now Detroit's Darius Slay is the only NFC cornerback with more. If he can get to five? He'll be in the mix.
 
Patrick Robinson: Robinson is in a very similar position as Mills. He doesn't have that league-wide reputation as a top corner, but he's sure played like one. Robinson is now with his fourth team in four years, and he's an eighth-year player who's never been a Pro Bowler, so he needs to overcome that journeyman reputation. But like Mills, he has three interceptions. A couple more gets him in the picture.
 
Nigel Bradham: Bradham has one sack, no interceptions and no forced fumbles. Without stat numbers, it's tough for outside linebackers to make a Pro Bowl team, no matter how solid they are against the run and in coverage. Bradham is a sixth-year veteran without a Pro Bowl on his resume, and he'll probably need INT and sack numbers to make his first one.
 
Jake Elliott: Elliott doesn't have the accuracy of some kickers, so his only chance is to keep racking up the 50-yarders. Going into Dallas, he shares the NFL lead with five 50-yarders, including, of course, the game-winning 61-yarder against the Giants. But overall, he's at 85 percent, which sounds high but is actually only sixth-highest among regular NFC kickers. And he's missed three PATs. His only chance is another game-winner or two and a bunch more 50-yarders.
 
Rodney McLeod: McLeod has a couple interceptions and has played well all year, but it's hard to imagine him making the Pro Bowl and Jenkins not. And it's hard to imagine both safeties getting picked. Like any DB, McLeod can improve his chances with a couple INTs and maybe a pick-six during the voting period. 

Eagles' Ronald Darby defends Buccaneers' Jameis Winston against groping allegations

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Eagles' Ronald Darby defends Buccaneers' Jameis Winston against groping allegations

Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby on Sunday morning released a statement defending friend, former Florida State teammate and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston against allegations Winston inappropriately groped an Uber driver during a ride in Arizona in March 2016.

News of the allegations came to light early last week and the NFL is investigating the Uber driver's claims. Darby says he was in the backseat of the car with Winston on the night of the alleged groping.

"I felt the need to come forward and clarify some inaccurate accounts of the evening March 13, 2016 when myself, a friend and Jameis Winston took an Uber ride in Arizona," Darby said in Sunday's statement. "There were three of us in the car, not just one, as has been reported. Myself and Jameis were in the backseat. I am confident that nothing inappropriate in nature happened in the car that evening and Jameis did not have any physical contact with the Uber driver. The accusations are just not true."

Darby and Winston played together at FSU from 2012-2014 and formed a close bond. But it was during that time at FSU that Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, came into the limelight for a variety of wrong reasons.

While redshirting in 2012, he was detained by police for causing property damage with  a BB gun. In April 2014, he was cited for shoplifting crab legs from a supermarket and subsequently suspended from the Seminoles' baseball team. He was suspended for a game against Clemson in September 2014 for shouting an inappropriate phrase in a cafeteria.  

But most notably, Winston was accused of sexually assaulting FSU student Erica Kinsman during an alleged December 2012 incident in his apartment. Winston was never charged by police in Tallahassee, where FSU is located, and the Florida state attorney's office also did not pursue criminal charges.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Darby was in Winston's apartment the night of the alleged sexual assault.

That case turned into a federal lawsuit that was eventually settled in December 2016.