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.

Nick Foles breaks down his ‘crazy situation’ with Eagles

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Nick Foles breaks down his ‘crazy situation’ with Eagles

At some point this summer, Carson Wentz will be cleared to play football.

And Nick Foles will pick up a clipboard and go back to the bench. The Super Bowl MVP will once again be a backup.

“It is a crazy situation,” Nick Foles said this week. “I don’t know how many times it’s happened.”

It’s never happened. No quarterback has ever been a Super Bowl MVP and began the next season as a backup.

But this is a unique set of circumstances. Wentz remains the unquestioned Eagles quarterback of the future. And Foles, as long as he’s here, is his backup.

“It’s not easy, because part of you wants to be able to lead a team and stay in the huddle,” Foles said Tuesday.

“But I’ve been very blessed to have experienced so much in my career so whenever those thoughts sort of hit you, you have to home back in and take what I learned early in my career, when I went to St. Louis, when I went to Kansas City, when I came here, that I really just need to worry about today, because tomorrow’s not guaranteed. This moment is. And I’m going to enjoy it and do it to the best of my ability.

“And it really makes everything a lot easier. Because whatever is going to happen is going to happen. A lot of it I have no control of it. If I’m traded, it’s really not my decision, so why would I even worry about it?”

Wentz was having a record-setting season when he tore up his knee Dec. 10 in Los Angeles. Foles responded with a record-setting postseason.

But Wentz is 25 and Foles is 29. When Wentz is healthy, he will start.

“My (role) right now is to help this team in practice while Carson’s getting healthy, which I’m excited for,” he said. “I want him to get back out there and get healthy and get back to (being) Carson Wentz.

“I want him to (pick up) off where he left off. That excites me from a friend’s perspective and a teammate’s perspective.

“My mindset won’t change. There’s definitely times where I’m tempted to look at the future, like any of us are. I’d be lying if that wasn’t the case. But you have to reel back in and stay in the present because that doesn’t do you any benefit.”

Foles said he’s had people tell him he should have demanded the Eagles trade him so he can start now.

And after his record-setting postseason, it would be understandable if he did.

“I’ve seen both sides of it,” he said. “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Do I want an opportunity to run a team again? Absolutely. But am I trying to run away and do it right now? Well, I’m grateful to be here.

“There’s so much here that I really enjoy and I love it here. So I’m not banging on the table. I’m really grateful to be in this moment.”

Some people made a big deal about Foles telling an Austin television station that he would like to be a starter again, but anybody who knows Foles already knew that.

“All I’m telling y’all is what y’all already knew and everyone knew,” he said. “I can’t believe that I had to actually come out and say that I want to be a starter again. Because I’ve always believed your actions speak louder than words. I shouldn’t have to come out and say that I want to be a starter again.

“The key is to go out on the field and lead your team and show people, ‘This guy is a good guy in the locker room, he can lead a team, he did it on the field, and he’s shown it.’

“Right now, I’m a part of this team, I’m a piece of the puzzle, I’m going to help this team win in any way possible, and whatever my role is, do it to the best of my ability and do it with a lot of joy. Because I’ve seen the other side of it, and I have a lot of joy going to work here.”

Emotional Jason Kelce explains origin of epic speech

Emotional Jason Kelce explains origin of epic speech

More than two months after Jason Kelce gave that now-famous and impassioned vulgarity-filled speech on the steps of the art museum, the emotions that led to it haven’t dissipated. 

On Tuesday, the Philadelphia folk hero got choked up trying to explain the impetus of his words for the first time since he spoke them. 

“I found myself literally [after] the Vikings game in the shower, like,” Kelce said before pausing. 

He choked back tears for a full five seconds. 

“Goddamnit,” he said under his breath, cleared his throat. Another three seconds passed. 

“You get pretty emotional, you’re crying,” said Kelce, recomposed. “And all of that, after the Super Bowl, after the game is finally over, I’m running on the field and I still can’t believe it happened. And it all hits you all at once. I think that’s what the whole speech was. It was the culminating of all the stories I’m thinking about at night, I can’t go to sleep, of how I got there. Then you start thinking about how everybody else got there. Then you start thinking about how the city got there.”

Kelce said he didn’t know how much his speech would resonate with fans and that’s not why he gave it anyway. He delivered his speech because in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, he began thinking about all the adversity he had overcome. He didn’t get a scholarship coming out of high school, needed to prove himself at a new position, and not long ago even questioned his own ability to still play at a high level. 

Then he realized it wasn’t just him. He thought about all of his teammates and what they went through. Then he thought about the city’s waiting to get a Super Bowl. 

The epic speech was born. 

“The whole speech was a realization of myself, realizing that I’m not the only person that’s been through something,” Kelce said. “I’m not the only person that’s had to go through [something]. Literally everybody has had something that they’ve overcome. Everybody’s pushed through. Everybody’s persevered through some sort of adversity and that was kind of the mantra the whole season. We had so much adversity, injuries, all these things happening. It just seemed like nothing could stop us.”

Since the Super Bowl and the speech, Kelce has become a wanted man. Everyone wants a photo and everyone tries to get a mic in his hand. A lot of people expect Kelce to be a great speaker, but what he said at the art museum that day had been building for years. He won’t always have that magic. 

While Kelce has spoken to some of the other local teams and his face appeared on beer cans with proceeds going to charity, Kelce has turned down most offers. Because of added fame, Kelce said just going out for breakfast is more difficult these days; and we all know what happens when Kelce doesn’t eat breakfast. 

He understands the new level of fame, though. It comes with the territory of helping the city achieve its dream. There are too many stories to list of fans telling him how much it meant to them and he understands the Eagles are glue for families in the region. He remembered one teammate walking up to him at the parade after a fan poured the ashes of their grandfather into his hands. The teammate didn’t know what to do and Kelce didn’t have any answers either. 

“It’s one of those things for the first seven years,” Kelce said, “that’s all anybody ever talked about when they came up and talked to you as an Eagle. They were like, ‘Just get us one. We’ve been waiting forever.’”

That’s pretty emotional stuff. You’ll forgive Kelce for getting choked up.