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.

'The Magic of Carson Wentz' gives Eagles a huge win over Washington

'The Magic of Carson Wentz' gives Eagles a huge win over Washington

Carson Wentz had one of the best passing games of his career on Monday night. 

He completed 68 percent of his passes for 268 yards, four touchdowns and had a passer rating of 126.3 in the Eagles' 34-24 win over Washington at the Linc (see breakdown)

Nobody wanted to talk about that though. 

The biggest question his teammates had in the locker room after the game was this: How the heck did he escape on that 17-yard scramble? 

On 3rd-and-8 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Wentz was seemingly sacked well behind the line of scrimmage. At least everyone thought. But that's when the 6-5, 237-pound quarterback somehow emerged from the pile and scrambled ahead for 17 yards. 

"Amazing," Nelson Agholor said. "We didn't know how he did that. Three, four plays later we are still on the sideline figuring out how he did that."

It seemed like everyone in the stadium thought Wentz was cooked on that play. The crowd didn't even start cheering until much later. Everyone in the stadium seemed pretty confused. 

The Eagles' defensive players even started getting ready to head back into the game. Malcolm Jenkins grabbed his helmet, but then looked at the video screen to see that Wentz was still going. 

"That's the magic of Carson Wentz," Jenkins said. 

Former long snapper and magician Jon Dorenbos was in the building on Monday night — and got a big ovation as he recovers from a serious health issue — but it was Wentz who pulled a rabbit out of his hat. 

"I couldn't believe he got out of that little jam," Brandon Graham said. "He just popped out of nowhere. There's something special going on right now and I'm just happy to be a part of it."

After that Wentz scramble, the Eagles went down the rest of the way and he capped the drive with a touchdown pass to Agholor. That score put them up 31-17 and put the game out of reach for Washington. The Eagles improved to 6-1 and have the best record in the NFL. 

His teammates called it magic, ridiculous and awesome. So how did Wentz escape on that play? 

He didn't know either. 

"I'm not really sure," he said. 

When Wentz wasn't scrambling all over the field — he finished the game with a career-high 64 rushing yards — he was making plays with his arm. 

Before the Arizona game, Wentz had never thrown three touchdowns in a game. He has now done that three games in a row. Before the Arizona game, Wentz had just three games with a passer rating over 100. He now has six. 

Through seven games this season, he has 17 touchdown passes, already surpassing his total from his entire rookie season. He has thrown just four interceptions. 

Before Monday, Wentz was already the Vegas favorite to win MVP. 

He showed why against Washington. 

"That's the type of guy he is, he gets out of trouble, he breaks tackles and he throws dimes," Washington safety D.J. Swearinger said. "He's a great quarterback and he'll be one of the greats for a long time."  

While Wentz's 17-yard scramble was the most-talked-about play after the game, there was a close second. 

The other question was this: How the heck did he see Corey Clement in the end zone?

In the third quarter, with two defenders barreling down on him, Wentz found Clement on the right side of the end zone. Clement was about his third read on the play. 

"He's amazing," Alshon Jeffery said. "On that touchdown to Corey, I'm like, I don't know how he saw him. He must have Spiderman vision. He's great. He does a great job just making plays and seeing guys." 

Head coach Doug Pederson called the touchdown pass "one of the best plays I've seen in a long time." 

Over the last month, Wentz's elevated play has thrust the Eagles into Super Bowl discussions. If he continues like this, that's not a far-fetched scenario. 

It seems like Wentz is just in a zone right now (see Roob's observations)

Does he feel it?

"I feel good," Wentz said. "I do feel good." 

Eagles' rookie class puts on a show in Monday Night Football win

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Eagles' rookie class puts on a show in Monday Night Football win

The Eagles' 2017 rookie class was out in force Monday night, and in a huge division showdown on national TV, Derek Barnett, Mack Hollins and Corey Clement helped the best team in football improve to 6-1.

Barnett recorded two sacks and Hollins and Clement both had dramatic touchdown catches in the Eagles' 34-24 win over the Redskins at the Linc (see observations).

Barnett, the first-round pick from Tennessee, became the first Eagle rookie with a two-sack game since Trent Cole in 2005. Hollins' 64-yard TD catch was the longest by an Eagles rookie in 11 years. And Clement's circus TD catch made him the first undrafted Eagles running back in 64 years with two TD catches in a season.

The Eagles have plenty of big-time veteran stars. But this rookie class is looking awfully good right now.

Factor in third-round corner Rasul Douglas, who has played well, and record-setting kicker Jake Elliott, and that's quite a rookie class.

"We just always have a big chip on our shoulder," said Clement, who went undrafted out of Wisconsin. "When we come out here, we are always overlooked by somebody just because we are rookies, but that doesn't mean we can't make a play.

"When we're out there, we try to think and play as veterans. When we walk out there with those guys, like (Brent) Celek and all those other veterans, we want to prove that we belong.

"I don't want anybody second-guessing why we're out there on the field."

Clement was on the receiving end of a miraculous Carson Wentz effort, where he seemed to be swallowed up by the Redskins’ pass rush before floating a TD pass to Clement on a scramble drill. Clement looked like a wide receiver, sticking both feet in the right side of the end zone (see breakdown).

The catch made Clement the first undrafted Eagles rookie running back with two TD catches in a season since Hal Giancanelli in 1953.

Clement had just two touchdown catches in college, but seven games into his NFL career, he's already matched that.

How did he get tagged with the reputation that he can't catch?

"I wish I could tell you," he said. "But everybody's going to say something about somebody. So it's whether you're going to back it up or complain about it, and I chose to back it up."

Hollins and Clement became the first pair of Eagles rookies with TD catches in the same game since Jason Avant and Hank Baskett against the Falcons in 2006. Hollins' 64-yard TD is the longest by an Eagles rookie since Baskett's 89-yarder in that same game.

Hollins, a fourth-round pick out of North Carolina, has been targeted six times this year and has six catches for 134 yards and five first downs.

And then there's Barnett, who had just half a sack in his first six games but broke through with two Monday against a Redskins team that had allowed only eight in its first six games.

Barnett became the first rookie with a two-sack game against the Redskins since Ziggy Ansah of the Lions in 2013.

"Everybody's been telling me just keep grinding and they're going to come," Barnett said. "They all just say keep working and eventually it's going to break. It was a fun night."

Barnett's 2½ sacks are the most by an Eagles rookie defensive end since Brandon Graham had three back in 2010.

"We have a lot of guys who've been playing in the league for a while, and they give me a lot of tips and stuff, and it helps me pick up my game," Barnett said. "I'm very lucky to have those guys in the room to help me."