Eagles

Roob's 25 Random Points: Zach Ertz, kicking trends, and remembering Tom Petty

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Roob's 25 Random Points: Zach Ertz, kicking trends, and remembering Tom Petty

As the Eagles return home to face the Cardinals, we take a look at how Arizona's offense has struggled to run the football and how it won't get any easier Sunday. 

Also in today's 25 Random Points, we go after the hipper-than-thou showgoers, take a look at how Brent Celek has passed the torch to Zach Ertz, pick out NFL kicking trends and, of course, remember Tom Petty.

Here we go!

1. I've read posts on Twitter or in Facebook story comments from Eagles fans in the past week that Nick Foles sucks, Zach Ertz sucks and Wendell Smallwood sucks, and I'm done trying to answer these things individually and trying to reason with people. I just find it incredibly sad there are some real Eagles fans out there who have so much hate and contempt in their hearts for players whose only fault is that they're not perfect. Foles? I don't know what his future holds, but other than a few bad games for a terrible Rams team in 2015, he's had a pretty consistent career. One record-setting year, another decent half season and some effective relief work for the Chiefs last year. He's got one of the 20-highest passer ratings in NFL history. Do you want to compare his first 20 career games with Carson Wentz's? Eleven more touchdowns, nine fewer interceptions, a bit more accurate, 1½ more yards per attempt, passer rating 20 points higher. Same 10-10 record. That's not to say he's better than Wentz or should be playing now. Just some context. What exactly has he done to inspire such vitriol? Ertz? The same fans who loved Chad Lewis now hate Zach Ertz because he doesn't drag 11 defenders 100 yards into the end zone every time he touches the football. Like every other tight end, right? Who exactly are these tight ends who are breaking all these tackles? Ertz isn't Gronk, but you know what? Since opening day 2015, he has more catches than Gronk. And every other tight end in the NFL. What exactly has he done to inspire such vitriol? He doesn't stomp on a linebacker's head every play? And Smallwood of all people? Really? A second-year, fifth-round tailback who's produced every chance he's gotten? Smallwood has had four games in his career where he's gotten double-digit carries, and he's averaged 4.6 yards per carry in those games. What exactly has he done to inspire such vitriol? He's not Brian Westbrook? Listen. Every player in the NFL — on this team and every other team — has faults and limitations. It's just sad that some fans are so angry and mean-spirited they can't appreciate the positives that most players actually offer. Everybody isn't Reggie or Dawk or Shady. 

2. Interesting conversation the other day with Ertz, who talked about how Celek embraced him back in 2013 when Ertz was a rookie second-round pick and Celek was the established starter. Consider Celek's position at the time: He averaged 59 catches for 744 yards from 2009 through 2012, numbers only four tight ends surpassed during that four-year span. At 27, he was in the prime of his career. Yet his team went out and used a second-round pick to essentially replace him. How did he respond? Let Ertz pick up the story: "You hear horror stories when you come into the league about guys that treat their rookies, high draft picks, terribly. Nothing could have been further from the truth with Brent. From the moment I got here, he was extremely helpful. James Casey, when I got here reached out immediately. Those guys were extremely helpful early in my career." Even as Ertz emerged as a big-time threat in the passing game, Celek remained the starter through 2015 because of his blocking ability. Ertz said it wasn't really until last year that he felt comfortable in a leadership position because of that. He just felt like he should defer to Celek. "Early in my clear, it was kind of unclear who was the No. 1 tight end, and I never wanted to overstep my bounds because he had been here for so long. So (it wasn't until) the last year, maybe a little bit toward the end of last year, where I really felt like I was the tight end. I never wanted to overstep my bounds stepping on the veteran's toes."

3. One other Celek note. As Ertz has become more and more of a weapon in the passing game, Celek's production obviously has dropped, and after a career-low 155 yards last year he has just one catch for 11 yards the first month of this season. Celek, quite likely in his final year with the Eagles, has 4,879 receiving yards, and I, for one, would really like to see him get the 121 yards he needs to reach 5,000. Only seven players in franchise history have reached 5,000 yards: Harold Carmichael (8,978 yards), Pete Retzlaff (7,412), Mike Quick (6,464), DeSean Jackson (6,117), Pete Pihos (5,619), Tommy McDonald (5,499) and Bobby Walston (5,363). It's a great benchmark. Celek fell 29 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season back in 2009. I'd hate to see a guy who has stood for nothing but hard work and unselfish team play for so long fall agonizingly short of another career milestone before he takes off that Eagles jersey for the final time. (Celek does have 5,130 receiving yards including the playoffs).

4. I've been doing this Eagles thing a long time. A long time. And I have never experienced anything remotely like what I experienced Sunday at StubHub Center in Carson, California. The Eagles played a Monday night game in Miami in 2003 — the Correll Buckhalter flying backward and upside touchdown game — where the stadium was maybe 30 to 35 percent Eagles fans at Joe Robbie, and that was incredible. But this? This was off the charts. I knew there'd be a lot of Eagles fans there, but that stadium was legitimately 85 to 90 percent Eagles fans. I walked the perimeter of the stadium on the concourse about an hour before kickoff and it was this ocean of Eagles Dawkins, Westbrook and Wentz jerseys. You had to really search to find a Chargers jersey. But it wasn't just the sheer volume of Eagles fans that was mind-blowing, it was just how into it they all were! The few Chargers fans I saw had no idea how to handle these loud, roving packs of Eagles fans chanting, "Eagles home game … Eagles home game," or doing E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles chants. The NFL definitely messed up big time putting this franchise in a soccer stadium on a college campus in the suburbs of a city that doesn't want them. But for one Sunday afternoon, the NFL's gaffe was the Eagles' gain. It was an amazing day.

5. Check out Carson Wentz's improvement on third down from last year to this year: 2016: 98 for 175, 1,067 yards, 56 percent, 4 TD, 6 INT, 67.5 rating. So far in 2017: 26 for 40, 349 yards, 65 percent, 3 TD, 1 INT, 107.2 rating. Last year, Wentz threw for 70 first downs on 175 attempts, or exactly 40 percent. This year, he's converted 21 of 40 chances, for 53 percent. (All third-down numbers courtesy of the Pro Football Reference database.)

6. I don't get why when I type in, for example, "drug store" in my GPS search window, it gives me a Walgreens 578 miles away. Isn't it supposed to find the closest one? There's a Rite-Aid, CVS or Walgreen's on every freaking corner in every freaking town in the area. Yet my GPS wants to send me to a Rite-Aid in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Drives me nuts. I just need deodorant!

7. If the Eagles win Sunday, it will be only their seventh start of 4-1 or better in the last 35 years. Since 1992, they've been 4-1 in 1992, 1993, 1994, 2006 and 2014 and 5-0 in 2004. Of the 16 times the Eagles have been 4-1 or better, they've only made the playoffs eight times — in 1949, 1960, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1992, 2004, 2006. They failed to reach postseason play in 1944, 1950, 1954, 1959, 1961, 1993, 1994 and 2014. Of course, the first five times they opened 4-1 and didn't reach the postseason, there were no playoffs, only an NFL Championship Game. In the post-merger era, a 4-1 start has meant playoffs for the Eagles six out of eight times. League-wide, a 4-1 start since the merger has given a team a 77 percent chance of reaching the playoffs (265 of 343 teams).

8. Trick of the Tail > Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

9. I'll be shocked if the Cards can run the ball at all Sunday. They're one of only 18 teams in NFL history that goes into Week 5 with a per-carry average of 2.7 or worse and an average of 57 or fewer yards per game. They're one of three teams that doesn't have a run from scrimmage of 15 yards or more this year. Their highest yards-per-carry this year was 3.3 against the Colts. They have 13 rushing first downs all year. The Eagles had 13 just against the Giants. Think they miss David Johnson a little?

10. I love that all of Tommy Roe's hits in the 1960s had drum breaks. Nobody else did that.

11. The Eagles have allowed 25 pass plays of 60 yards or more since 2009, second-most in the NFL during that eight-plus-year span behind only the Cards, who've allowed 26. During Jim Johnson's 10-year tenure here, the Eagles allowed only 12 60-yard pass plays, fourth-fewest in the NFL during that span. That said, I'd still rather have young, hungry cornerbacks who are finding their way than all the old, disinterested, recycled veteran free agents the Eagles slogged through here the last seven or eight years.

12. The Eagles from 2009 through 2016 are the only team in NFL history to allow 25 or more touchdown passes eight years in a row. They've allowed seven in four games this year so unless they hold their final 12 opponents to 18 or fewer passing TDs, they'll extend their NFL record to nine straight years. Only four other teams have allowed 25 or more TD passes in more than four straight years!

13. It always cracks me up how people at rock shows like to wear what they think is the hippest band T-shirt they can find to prove their indie rock cred. Pick a show and there's the obligatory Ministry T-shirt. Definitely a couple Sonic Youth T-shirts. Cocteau Twins. Mogwai. Sebadoh. Primal Scream. Brainiac. Stereolab. It's hilarious. "I'm cooler than anybody at this War on Drugs gig because I'm wearing a Einstürzende Neubauten T-shirt!" So here's my plan. I'm going to start showing up at shows wearing a Creed T-shirt. Or a Nickelback T-shirt. Maybe Maroon 5. Just one person's way of fighting back against hipper-than-thou T-shirts!

14. Jake Elliott may not have topped his 61-yard field goal Sunday in L.A., but by making four field goals of 40 yards or more he did make a little more history. Elliott is only the second kicker in Eagles history to make four field goals from 40 or out in the same game. David Akers did it on Oct. 3, 2004, in Chicago — 40, 42, 42, 50. But Akers also missed from 39 and 45 yards that day. So Elliott became the first Eagles kicker ever to attempt four or more 40-yarders and make them all. 

15. It's only four games, but Lane Johnson is playing lights out. He's really fun to watch these days. A lot of people questioned whether Johnson would be able to maintain his strength and health without the help of the supplements he's sworn off, the supplements that got him into so much trouble last year. But so far, so good. Johnson is a beast out there right now.

16. Tony Romo is already my favorite NFL analyst ever.

17. Did you know league-wide NFL kickers are 15 for 19 this year on attempts from 53 yards and out? That's insane. As recently as 2006, there were only 15 field goals made all year from 53 yards and out. 

18. And get this: Akers made two field goals of 53 yards or more in his first 145 games in an Eagles uniform. Elliott made two field goals of 53 yards or more in his first three games in an Eagles uniform.

19. The Eagles are about to face their third straight quarterback who's thrown for 45,000 yards. Eli Manning is close to 50,000 yards, Philip Rivers is just under 47,000 yards and Carson Palmer went over 45,000 yards earlier this year. There are only 10 other quarterbacks in NFL history who've thrown for 45,000 yards, only three of them active — Drew Brees (third with 67,246), Tom Brady (fourth at 63,284) and Ben Roethlisberger (ninth at 47,771). It would take hours to look up, but I highly doubt any team in NFL history has ever faced three straight QBs who've thrown for 45,000 yards. And I'm pretty sure no team has ever done it with cornerbacks who are 22 and 23. And the Eagles have a very good chance to go 3-0 in those games.

20. More Mychal Kendricks, please.

21. My five favorite views of the Philly skyline: 1. From the very top row of the upper deck in the east end of Franklin Field, 2. From the grassy area just below the Skyline Stage at the Mann Music Center, 3. When you first get on the Vine Street Expressway from I-95 heading westbound, 4. From atop the steps at the Art Museum, 5. From the Schuylkill heading westbound just before the 30th Street exit.

22. The Browns are 38-110 since opening day of 2008. Think about that for a moment. That's a .257 winning percentage. Their average season over the last decade is 4-12. They're currently 0-4 for the fourth time during that span. Their last postseason win came so long ago that the team that won that game is now the Ravens. Their only winning quarterback during that 10-year span is Brian Hoyer (10-6). The rest are a combined 28-104. Included in that group is Brandon Weeden (5-15), Colt McCoy (6-15), Jason Campbell (1-7), Josh McCown (1-10) and Seneca Wallace (1-6). The Browns haven't won back-to-back games since 2014! They haven't drafted a Pro Bowler since tight end Jordan Cameron in 2011. No matter how bad things get, you can always take solace that you're not a Browns fan!

23. Why on earth is Warren Moon in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? He was a .500 career quarterback (102-101), he was never an All-Pro, he won three playoff games in 17 seasons, he never reached an AFC Championship Game, he led the NFL in interceptions twice and he's got a worse touchdown percentage than Steve Beuerlein and a worse interception percentage than Bubby Brister. Absolute mockery. And don't tell me about his CFL stats. If you want to include CFL stats, then put Gizmo Williams in.

24. I never get tired of watching DeSean Jackson make big plays. His 41-yard catch and run against the Patriots Thursday night was his 61st catch of 40 yards or more since he came into the league with the Eagles in 2008. No other receiver is within 20 of that figure (Calvin Johnson is second with 41) during that span.

25. There's not much I can add about Tom Petty that hasn't been said. Damn the Torpedoes is the one that won me over. "Here Comes my Girl," in particular. The great records just kept coming — Wildflowers in particular I thought was fantastic — and at some point, you just realize, hey, this guy is an all-timer. I saw Petty at the Mann in 1989 with the Replacements opening and again at the Wells Fargo Center this past June, and he was always fantastic live. In fact they were better live this year than in 1989. And seeing Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell up there on stage at the Wells Fargo Center with Tom gave me chills. Those three guys had been together since 1975 (and for a few years before that in Mudcrutch). I always loved how deferential Petty was to his musicians. It may have been his name on the marquee, but he always let you know this was a band, not a solo act, and the chemistry among the whole group of them was magical. But what I'll remember most about Petty is just how genuine he was and how true to his artistic vision he remained, no matter how many records he sold or didn't sell. He was such a rare artist in his refusal to change the music he was making depending on what was popular or hip at the time or what was being played on the radio. So he continued to put out fantastic records with virtually no airplay, other than what Classic Rock radio continued to program from his early days. Petty didn't have a top-60 hit after 1994, but every album he put out since 1999 made the top-10. Really interesting dynamic. He was still making terrific music right up to the end. Petty was so true to himself and his band. I heard an interview with him recently where he was asked why he would reunite with his old Mudcrutch buddies and play small venues when he could easily sell out arenas with the Heartbreakers. His answer was simple and speaks volumes about Tom Petty the artist: "Because I can." He'll be missed immeasurably.

Carson Wentz was great in 2017, but there's one thing he'd like to improve

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Carson Wentz was great in 2017, but there's one thing he'd like to improve

He was among the NFL’s best in virtually every category. Fourth in passer rating. First in touchdown percentage. Eighth in interception percentage. Second in TD-to-INT ratio. He was even third in wins despite missing the last three regular-season games.

So what’s Carson Wentz’s approach going into 2018?

“I think we can improve everywhere,” he said. “Overall, I think we can keep making strides and keep our foot on the gas.”

And that starts with completion percentage.

Wentz completed just 60.2 percent of his passes last year, which ranked 23rd of 30 quarterbacks who threw at least 400 passes. 

Ahead of only Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, Mitch Trubisky, Cam Newton, Trevor Siemian, Jacoby Brissett and DeShone Kizer.

Not the kind of company he wants to keep.

Wentz was so good in every other area he still fashioned a passer rating over 100. In fact, his 101.9 rating was the highest in NFL history by a quarterback completing 60.2 percent of his passes (minimum 400 attempts).

The league average last year was 62 percent. And for the sake of comparison, Nick Foles completed 64.7 percent of his passes if you combine the regular season and postseason.

Wentz dropped from 62.4 percent as a rookie to 60.2 percent last year.

Among 36 active NFL quarterbacks who’ve thrown at least 1,000 passes, Wentz’s 61.5 completion percentage ranks 21st.

 “I know I’d like to see my completions go higher,” Wentz said last week. “I think I was right around 60 percent and I expect more out of myself in that area.”

After 2016, Wentz identified red zone and third down as two areas he hoped to improve on. 

And he wound up leading the NFL in both red zone efficiency (NFL-best 116.3 passer rating) and third-down efficiency (NFL-best 123.7 rating).

“Third down, red zone, we were really good,” he said. “That’s something we really focused on from Year 1 to Year 2, but we (still) all feel we can definitely improve in those areas.”

Wentz also committed nine fumbles in 13 games, and only Jameis Winston and Russell Wilson had more.

“I think we had too many fumbles,” he said. “Balls on the ground too many times.”

Wentz, now nearly five months out from his knee injury, said he’s used a lot of his extra time at the NovaCare Complex this offseason focusing on what he can improve on in 2018, and one of those things is his upper-body strength.

“With all the extra rehab and not being able to run and do a lot of things early on you’ve really just got to focus on some different things and I got to do a lot of seated throwing and trying to build my arm strength and really take care of my upper body more than I have in the past,” he said.

“It’s been an interesting process not being able to get that true conditioning and that rehab in, but it’s exciting to start easing into the running and conditioning stuff. … 

“I feel good. I definitely feel working with the strength guys, we had some friendly competition stuff with the other (injured) guys in there rehabbing and I definitely feel like I’m making some strides in there.”

Forget empty Day 2 of draft, Eagles hoping to find gold in Day 3

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Forget empty Day 2 of draft, Eagles hoping to find gold in Day 3

The Eagles are scheduled to have a pretty boring Day 2 of the draft this year. Because after they pick at No. 32, they don’t have another selection until the 31st pick of the fourth round. 

That means 98 players will be taken between the Eagles’ first and second picks. And they’ll have to watch other teams pick that entire Friday (Rounds 2-3) without them … unless they make a move. 

“We’re not looking at it like we’re sitting out on Friday,” Eagles de facto GM Howie Roseman said. “We’re going through our draft process looking at every scenario. When we get to Friday, we get to Friday.” 

Even if the Eagles don’t make a move, they’ll be plenty busy Saturday, the final day of the draft. They have two fourth-round picks and one pick in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. 

Eagles personnel head Joe Douglas showed up to his media availability with a stat ready to go to illustrate the importance of Day 3. 

“We’re excited that we have five picks on Saturday,” Douglas said. “When you look at the Super Bowl, there’s 22 starters that were third-round picks or lower. Of those 22, 18 of them were fourth-round picks or lower. So 18 starters in the Super Bowl this year were fourth-round picks or lower, including six of them that were undrafted free agents. We choose to keep the glass half full.” 

Douglas is right on all those stats — 22 of 44 starters in the Super Bowl were drafted in the third or lower and 18 of them would be considered Day 3 picks. Not bad. 

Here’s how the Super Bowl starters broke down by round: 1-10, 2-12, 3-4, 4-4, 5-3, 6-3, 7-2, UDFA-6. 

The Eagles accounted for seven of the 18 players who were drafted in the fourth round or later, so the Patriots were the ones who found even more value late in drafts. And of those seven, just three were original Eagles — Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jason Kelce and Jalen Mills. 

Of the six undrafted players who started in the Super Bowl, two were from the Eagles — LeGarrette Blount and Rodney McLeod. Neither was an original Eagle, but the Birds also relied heavily on running back Corey Clement, who was an undrafted rookie last season. 

With a dearth of high draft picks, it would make sense if the Eagles attack the undrafted market following the draft, but Douglas thinks it won’t be as easy as many might think. 

“You would think because we’re coming off a Super Bowl, we don’t have a second or third round pick that it would be a lot easier after the draft,” Douglas said. “But my experience coming off a Super Bowl, it’s sometimes harder to get guys to commit to your roster because agents and players have a perceived notion that it’s going to be that much tougher to make the team. I think that’s going to be a challenge. I think that’s going to be a challenge for us and we know it and we’re going to attack it.”

The Eagles in recent years have shown a willingness to pony up significant money to entice undrafted players to sign with them, and if Douglas is right, they might need to do it again to land some this year. 

Either way, the Eagles know how important Day 3 and beyond can be. So when they’re bored on Day 2, they don’t plan on losing focus.