Eagles

Roob's 10 observations from Eagles-Giants

Roob's 10 observations from Eagles-Giants

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Nick Foles was way better than expected, the defense was worse than expected and the Eagles somehow escaped the Meadowlands Sunday with a way-too-close 34-29 win over the Giants (see breakdown).

With the win, the Eagles clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs, their first since 2004.

It sure wasn't pretty. But that first-round bye will be. 

While we all catch our collective breath, here are 10 instant observations from the Eagles' 12th win of the year.

1. Nick Foles showed a little rust early but ultimately did everything you would want your quarterback to do. Moved the ball, got the offense in the end zone, managed the offense, avoided mistakes. In his first start in 14 months and first start in an Eagles uniform in more than three years, Foles threw four TDs on the road, and that's darn impressive. I really felt good about Foles going into Sunday. He's a good, solid QB, and other than a few bad games on a terrible Rams team in 2015, he's always been a good, solid quarterback. But he was actually better than I expected. He finished 24 for 38 for 237 yards and the four TDs, no INTs and a 115.8 passer rating (see report card). What I was most impressed with was how Foles kept his composure early, when the Giants had that two-TD lead and nothing was going right for the Eagles. This is a guy who hasn't played much football lately, but he was calm and poised in the face of adversity. On the road, down 13 points, nothing going right. Impressive afternoon for Foles.

2. On the other hand? This was an absolutely embarrassing performance by the Eagles' defense against one of the NFL's worst offenses, a team that just fired its coach, a team with a lame-duck interim coach, a team with nothing to play for, a team with the third-worst offense in the NFL. Pathetic. Forget who's playing quarterback for the Eagles, if the defense doesn't get its act together soon, the Eagles' postseason run is going to be a very short one. This is three straight games now where their tackling has been poor, they've allowed big plays and they've been unable to keep an opponent out of the end zone. After allowing just 18 touchdowns in their first 11 games, they've now given up 10 in their last three. For crying out loud, the Giants came into the game averaging 14 points on offense, and they scored three TDs on their first 26 plays and laid 29 points on the Eagles. Are they worn out? Are they being exposed by better, more experienced quarterbacks? Are they just getting away from basics, like tackling and coverage? Whatever the answer, Jim Schwartz has to get this solved very, very soon.

3. A couple numbers to ponder: Eli Manning, benched just a few weeks ago, threw for 434 yards, the second-most yards ever against the Eagles (Jon Kitna once had 446 for the Lions in a 2007 Eagles blowout win). And the Giants netted 504 yards. This is one of the worst offenses in the NFL! It just seemed like there were Giants open 8 to 12 yards down the field on every play, and nothing ever changed. The Eagles were really, really fortunate to escape North Jersey with a win.

4. I have to say I'm just not in love with the Eagles' running back rotation right now. It just seems too hard for any of the Eagles' four backs to get into any sort of rhythm right now. Early in the year, the way the offense was operating, they were all getting enough carries to kind of get going individually, but in close games, when the Eagles are scrambling on offense, it just seems that the rotation is hurting the offense's rhythm. Kenjon Barner had an 18-yard run at the start of the second quarter, then didn't get another carry. LeGarrette Blount gets the ball on a crucial 4th-and-1 midway through the second quarter, but it's only his second carry of the game and the play goes nowhere. Corey Clement runs for 10 yards midway through the first quarter and doesn't get another carry in the next five drives. Jay Ajayi? I've been saying since about the second game he played in an Eagles uniform he should be this team's lead back, but after gaining four yards on his first carry of the game, only five of the next 14 running back handoffs went his way. His next carry? That went 22 yards for a first down. Ajayi had only 12 carries Sunday and that's not enough. He needs to carry the bulk of the load. Has to.

5. I can't think of a more dramatic transformation in Philadelphia sports history than what we've seen this year from Nelson Agholor. It's flat-out remarkable, and that kid deserves so much credit for never making excuses and just working his ass off during the offseason and hammering himself into a legit NFL wide receiver. That insane third-quarter touchdown catch on the heels of his 141-yard game in L.A. last weekend … that's big-time stuff right there. 

6. Howie Roseman has to do everything imaginable to make sure the Eagles don't lose Trey Burton. That kid can play.

7. Impressive day for Zach Ertz, especially that 15-yard catch and run down the right sideline for a huge late first down. Ertz didn't have huge numbers — 7 for 59 with a touchdown — but his history with Foles really showed up. They were together in 2013 and 2014, and you can tell Foles loves having him out there.

8. I'm trying to figure out Ronald Darby. Played awful much of the game, but he did have that huge interception and big return, and then he made an enormous play in the end zone in the final minute, knocking away a potential Manning touchdown pass to Roger Lewis. One thing is for sure — the kid has talent. Another is for sure — he has to be more consistent.

9. With all due respect to Fletcher Cox, sometimes I really believe Brandon Graham is this team's defensive MVP. He was very good once again Sunday, extending his career high in sacks to 9½ and also making a huge play in the fourth quarter, throwing Shane Vereen for a nine-yard loss on a drive that ultimately ended with the Eagles' blocking a field goal. On a day when most of the guys around struggled, Graham continued his brilliant play. He was there when the Eagles needed him the most.

10. The left side of the offensive line was everybody's biggest concern going in, and while Chance Warmack and Halapoulivati Vaitai aren't going to pick up any late Pro Bowl votes for their performances, they hung in there enough, protecting the blind side of a quarterback making his first start in 14 months. Foles didn't always have a ton of time, but he was only sacked once — that was on Big V and caused a fumble (that the Eagles recovered). The Eagles scored 34 points with those guys. Could have been worse. Could have been a lot worse.

Mike Trout predicts Super Bowl pain for Tom Brady

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Mike Trout predicts Super Bowl pain for Tom Brady

Mike Trout hasn't decided if he will travel to Minneapolis to watch his beloved Eagles play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Trout said he enjoys staying at home and watching the game on television with his family. (There's something cool about that.) He also digs the commercials.

Wherever baseball's best — and highest paid — player decides to watch the game, he will have one important accessory with him: his dog mask. The same one he wore at Lincoln Financial Field during the Eagles' trouncing of the Minnesota Vikings in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.

"I will definitely be wearing that dog mask," Trout said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "Gotta ride with it."

Eagles tackle Lane Johnson gave Trout the dog mask that has come to symbolize the Eagles' place as an underdog in the playoffs and again in the Super Bowl. The Eagles have come to relish that status.

"A lot of people doubted them," Trout said. "They lost the majority of their captains and starters (to injury), but they're still fighting. Next-man-up mentality."

Even some of Trout's teammates with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim doubted the Eagles. But no more.

"They give me grief all the time," Trout said. "Now they're all rooting for them. Throughout the season, there were a lot of ups and downs. But now we're going to the Super Bowl."

Trout, of course, was raised and still lives in Millville, New Jersey, less than an hour's drive from Philadelphia. He grew up a fan of all the Philly teams and, in fact, was in the parking lot outside of Citizens Bank Park celebrating with friends the night the Phillies won the World Series in 2008.

Trout, 26, is a season-ticket holder with the Eagles and a close friend and hunting buddy of Carson Wentz. Trout, who saw his first Eagles game back in the Veterans Stadium days, was able to visit with several Eagles players after Sunday's big win over the Vikings.

"I told them to go get it," he said. "Obviously, there hasn't been a Super Bowl champion in Philadelphia. I told them to go get it."

Trout recalled watching Super Bowl XXXIX more than a decade ago. The Patriots beat the Eagles, 24-21, in that one.

Trout sees a different Eagles team in the rematch.

"This team is just a little bit different," he said. "They want to win and it's not just one guy carrying them. Every guy has a part in it."

Trout's buddy, Wentz, won't be playing in the Super Bowl. He may have been on his way to the NFL's MVP award hadn't he been knocked out by a season-ending knee injury in December. Nick Foles has taken over and been at the helm for two playoff wins.

In six spectacular seasons in the majors, Trout has won two American League MVP awards and finished second three times. (That's why he will make $34 million in 2018.) He finished fourth in the voting in 2017 and would have finished higher if he hadn't missed significant time with a thumb injury that required surgery. He feels for Wentz, who has to watch from the sidelines.

"It's definitely difficult," Trout said. "I went through it last year. It's tough for him. I thought he was the MVP. It was hard to watch when he went down. But he's working hard. He's walking. I'm sure he'll be ready for next season.

"What he did on the field this season was amazing, and now Nick has stepped up."

Tuesday's conference call was set up by the Angels' media relations department because of the large demand to speak with Trout, who has emerged as the Eagles' most visible fan, woofing and pumping his fist in triumph with the rest of the fans at the Linc. Trout said he'd never heard the place louder than it was as Patrick Robinson ran back that game-turning pick-six in the first quarter Sunday night.

Philadelphia fans dream of a day when they will be cheering for Trout rounding the bases in a Phillies uniform. He is signed through 2020. His free agency is not that far away.

As always, Trout deflected a question about whether he could see himself playing in Philadelphia someday.

"I'm an Eagles fan," he said. "Obviously, I grew up a Philly sports fan. I love playing in Anaheim. I have a couple more years on my contract. I love Anaheim and the West Coast."

That wasn't exactly a no.

Trout was more direct when asked about what he expected in the Super Bowl.

"It's going to be tough," he said. "Anybody that goes against Tom Brady is going against the best and maybe greatest of all time.

"I still think the Eagles will pull it out and they're going to win, 31-24."

And the decisive play will be?

"An interception of Brady," Trout said.

Carson Wentz's greatest leadership feat

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Carson Wentz's greatest leadership feat

After the Eagles celebrated their win in the NFC Championship Game, Carson Wentz limped off the field at Lincoln Financial Field with the help of a cane. He wore an Eagles NFC champions hat, T-shirt and a giant smile.  

Wentz didn't get to play Sunday night, but he still played a huge role in the Eagles' getting to the Super Bowl. 

That was the message offensive coordinator Frank Reich tried to get across to Wentz when he had a brief chat with him during the fourth quarter of the blowout win. Wentz was one of the main reasons the Eagles got a chance to play the championship game at the Linc. 

Wentz wasn't just happy for the Eagles on Sunday. He was happy for Nick Foles, the guy who took over for him. 

"To me, one of the greatest things about a person that you can say, is when you see him celebrating somebody else's success," Reich said. "Even when you know it's at the same position. I don't care; human nature tells you that's hard to do. And it's been fun to see those two do that. It's fun to see Carson truly have the maturity to celebrate Nick's success and understanding how he's helping this team, also with the frustration knowing that he wants to be in there." 

For the last couple of games, Wentz has progressed enough in his ACL rehab to be allowed on the sideline during games and that's meant a lot to the Eagles, especially Foles and Nate Sudfeld. The three have spent all year together so it feels more natural to be together during games. 

During Sunday's NFC Championship Game, Wentz was on the sideline but part of him was on the field. The second touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery came on a play Wentz brought with him from North Dakota State. A FOX camera caught his reaction after the score: 

"Every time we score on his play," Reich said, "the smile's gonna light up."

Reich has some experience with watching big moments. Spending most of his career as a backup quarterback, he had to watch Jim Kelly play in big moments and he knows how hard that can be. 

"It's absolutely human to wish you were in there," Reich said. "But the whole key, it's a very fine line. That fine line to me is that you can still not just be happy for the team winning, but to be happy for Nick, who could potentially be stealing another person's thunder. That's the pretty cool thing. Of all the great things he's done this year, (this) even more exemplifies the leader he is."