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.

Jeffery's role, Pederson's personality, and more in Roob's observations

Jeffery's role, Pederson's personality, and more in Roob's observations

Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis, record-setting third-down conversions, and Vince and Mike Lombardi highlight Monday's edition of 10 random Super Bowl observations, which will appear every day between today and Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis.

That should be 140 total random Super Bowl observations! 

1. You could just sense Nick Foles and Alshon Jeffery building up their chemistry over the past few weeks, and in these two playoff games Jeffery has played like the star the Eagles hoped they were getting when they signed him. Jeffery was 4 for 61 against the Falcons and 5 for 85 with two TDs against the Vikings. Foles targeted him five times and he caught every one, including that 53-yard TD on a scramble drill. Jeffery needs 66 yards in the Super Bowl to break the franchise record for receiving yards in a single postseason (211 in 2008 by none other than Kevin Curtis). Jeffery is just blossoming now. His two TDs Sunday give him 11 this year, and only Harold Carmichael, Tommy McDonald, Terrell Owens and Mike Quick have had more in a season in franchise history. He just looks more and more comfortable each week, especially in the red zone, where he has a real flair for going up and getting the ball. I have a hunch he's going to have a big game in Minneapolis.

2. The Eagles have allowed 15 second-half points in their last five games. 

3. Pretty funny after everything that’s transpired over the past few months that the Super Bowl winner receives the Lombardi Trophy. Definitely not named after Mike! 

4. According to Pro Football Focus, 69 of Jay Ajayi’s 73 rushing yards Sunday night came after first contact. That means 94.5 percent of his yards came after he was hit. That’s remarkable and speaks to just what a tough runner he is. 

5. Corey Graham was such an underrated signing. He’s been very solid as a third safety and like newcomers LeGarrette Blount, Torrey Smith, Chris Long and Dannell Ellerbe, he’s a winner and has a Super Bowl ring. He knows what it takes. Graham’s interception Sunday was his third career postseason INT, and only two active players — Antoine Bethea and Tramon Williams, with four each — have more. Solid guy, solid player.

6. Soon after the media was allowed in the locker room after the game Sunday night, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill snuck over to this panel on the wall and plugged his iPhone into a jack and instantly music began blasting over speakers throughout the locker room. Grugier-Hill closed his eyes and started dancing. Rodney McLeod cracked up but yelled over, “Come on, Kamu. You can’t be playing Lil Yachty in the locker room while the media is in here,” and everybody cracked up. This team is so loose and having so much fun right now. Doug Pederson deserves so much credit for letting these guys show their personality all the time, whether it’s in an end zone celebration, in the locker room before a game or on the sideline with the German Shepherd masks. If you’re loose, you can just go out and play your game. If you’re tight, it’s tough to be at your best. Pederson understands this as well as any coach I’ve ever been around.

7. Amazing that the Patriots’ top two receivers this postseason are former Eagles: Receiver Danny Amendola (18 for 196) and running back Dion Lewis (16 for 111). Amendola spent the early part of the 2009 season on the Eagles’ practice squad before the Rams signed him. Lewis was the Eagles’ fifth-round pick in 2011 and spent his first two NFL seasons with the Eagles before getting traded to the Browns for linebacker Emmanuel Acho.

8. The Eagles’ 456 yards of offense Sunday are the most they’ve ever had in a playoff game, two more than they had in the 2008 NFC Championship Game. It was the second most the Vikings have allowed in their 49 franchise playoff games. The Giants netted 518 in their 41-0 win over the Vikings at Giants Stadium in 2001. The Eagles' 27 first downs are also a franchise playoff record. 

9. I can’t get past the fact that 24 months ago Pederson had never coached above the high school level and Foles was mulling retirement. Twenty-four months ago! Look at ‘em now! This is why sports rule!

10. Maybe the craziest thing about Sunday’s game was the Eagles’ ability to convert on third down against a defense that came into the game historically among the best in NFL history on third down at 25.4 percent. The Eagles were 10 for 14 on third down, good for 71.4 percent. That’s third best against the Vikings in any game — regular season or postseason — since 1991, which is as far back as available records go. To put that 71.4 percent figure in perspective, the Eagles converted more third downs Sunday (10) than the Vikings’ last four opponents had combined (eight). 

Former Eagles assistant named Giants head coach

ap-pat-shurmur-eagles.jpg
AP Images

Former Eagles assistant named Giants head coach

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has been hired as the New York Giants head coach.

The Giants announced the hiring late Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Shurmur and the Vikings were beaten by the Eagles in the NFC title game.

The 52-year-old Shurmur replaces Ben McAdoo, who was fired in early December with the team mired with a 2-10 record and owners and fans upset with his handling of the benching of two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took over for the final four games and posted a 1-3 record.

"He has an outstanding track record in developing young players, and it is clear his players respond to his guidance and direction," co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch said in a statement.

"We interviewed six talented and qualified candidates, and we feel like Pat, with his vision and experience, is the right person to lead our team."

The Giants won't officially introduce Shurmur until Friday. A winter storm in the Midwest is preventing him from coming to New Jersey on Tuesday and he will be at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, from Tuesday night through Thursday.

Shurmur returns to the head coaching ranks for the first time since leading the Cleveland Browns in 2011-12. He takes over a troubled team that posted a 3-13 record a year after making the playoffs.

Shurmur was interviewed on Jan. 6 by Mara, new general manager Dave Gettleman and assistant GM Kevin Abrams.

Following that meeting in Minneapolis, Shurmur had an hour-long phone conversation with Tisch.

The Giants interviewed five other candidates, kicking it off with Spagnuolo three days after the season ended.

New York also spoke with New England coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and recently fired Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville, who has since been hired as a running backs coach by the Dolphins. Wilks was hired as the head coach in Arizona on Monday

Shurmur has earned a reputation as a quarterback whisperer. NFC title game opponents Nick Foles of the Eagles and Case Keenum of the Vikings were tutored by him.

With the Giants, Shurmur will get to work with Manning and possibly the No. 2 pick in the draft, if New York uses the pick to pick an heir apparent.

But the Giants also had problems in the locker room. Three defensive backs -- Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple were suspended for a game for conduct detrimental to the team.

Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said Shurmur constantly put players in position to contribute and he doesn't take anything for granted.

"He's not a stubborn guy. He's going to throw stuff out if it's not working, and he's going to find things that guys are good at," Thielen said Monday as the Vikings cleaned out their lockers.

"So I think as a head coach, he's going to do that on both sides of the ball. Special teams, he's going to find guys who can make plays and let them do what they do. So I think he's going to have a lot of success as a head coach."

Shurmur has been a part of teams that have qualified for the playoffs nine times and won seven division titles. He was Philadelphia's quarterbacks coach when the Eagles played in the Super Bowl against New England in the 2004 season.

Shurmur is finishing his second year with the Vikings. He began last season as the tight ends coach and for the final nine games was also the offensive coordinator, the title he retained this season.

The Vikings finished 10th in the NFL in scoring (23.9 points), 11th in total yardage (356.9), and seventh in rushing yardage (122.3) this season.

Shurmur posted a 9-23 record in his two seasons with the Browns, going there after a two-year stint as the offensive coordinator with the Rams. He spent three seasons as the Eagles offensive coordinator after being fired.

Shurmur's NFL coaching career began with a 10-year run (1999-2008) in Philadelphia. He coached in college at Stanford and Michigan State.