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.

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

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Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

When Doug Pederson said back in July that the 2017 Eagles "probably have more talent" than the Super Bowl Packers teams of the 1990s that Pederson played on, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Millions of eyebrows maybe.
 
The Eagles? Who hadn't won a playoff game since 2008 and were coming off a 7-9 record in Pederson's first season?
 
More talented than a team that went to the playoffs virtually every year from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s behind Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Reggie White and reached back-to-back Super Bowls in 1996 and 1997, winning one?
 
"I look back on my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs, those Super Bowl runs there," Pederson said on July 17.
 
"And do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?"
 
Seriously, Doug?
 
Six months later, Pederson's comments — which seemed so ridiculous at the time — don't seem so ridiculous, do they?
 
Because here are those 2017 Eagles, sitting 13-3 with a playoff win over the Falcons in the books and a berth Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings despite a rash of injuries to some of their best players.
 
The Eagles haven't lost a game with postseason implications since Carson Wentz was lost for the season, and they're one home win from reaching their third Super Bowl.
 
Pederson, who had two stints backing up Brett Favre with the Packers — from 1996 through 1998 and 2001 through 2004 — was reminded of his comments Friday before practice.
 
"I don't have a crystal ball, obviously, and it's hard to predict," he said. "You'd love to sit here and go, 'Yeah, in the summer, (I thought we were) going to be 13-3 and win the NFC East.' You'd love to be in that situation, or 16-0, or whatever it might be.
 
"I did have a feeling back then when I made that statement that we could be, we had the potential to be a good football team because of the way we've practiced and the talent that we brought to the roster and the progression of Carson in his second year.
 
"And then defensively, the front, the way they performed, and the back end, I saw a lot of the same similarities. So you just have that gut feeling when I made that statement."
 
Back in July, when Pederson made those comments comparing the Eagles to the Packers, he tempered them by saying talent isn't always enough. It takes much more for a team to have success.
 
"I (said) it takes great coaching, teaching, mentoring to also have our guys prepared each week to be in this position," Pederson said. "So all of that has kind of culminated. I think you look back on it and you go, 'Wow, maybe it was a true type of thing.'
 
"But we just keep doing our jobs, keep doing what we've been coached to do. Players play what they can do and what's in their control, and we're here today."

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

Veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) is the only Eagles player listed as questionable for this week's game. Everyone else on the 53-man roster is expected to be available. 

Ellerbe, 32, missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and Friday. 

The Eagles' starting MIKE linebacker was also listed as questionable last week and was able to play, so expect him to be good to go. After all, this is the NFC Championship Game. There's no resting for anything else. 

In Minnesota, wide receiver Adam Thielen (lower back) and safety Andrew Sendejo (concussion) are both listed as questionable. 

Thielen, the Vikings' top receiver, missed Wednesday's practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday. Just like Ellerbe, there's no saving him for next week. 

Sendejo was limited on Wednesday and Thursday, was a full participant on Friday, but is still technically in the NFL's concussion protocol. He'll need to clear that before he's able to play, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he's optimistic Sendejo will be able to play. 

Meanwhile, third defensive tackle, Shamar Stephen (knee/ankle), missed practice all week and has been ruled out. While Stephen isn't a starter, he played just under 40 percent of the Vikings' snaps this season, so missing him is still a loss.

After practicing indoors on Wednesday and Thursday, the Eagles loaded up on buses and spent their Friday practice outside at Lincoln Financial Field. Head coach Doug Pederson likes to get his guys outside for at least one day per week. 

The Eagles will have a walkthrough on Saturday before they'll be back at the Linc for Sunday's 6:40 p.m. kickoff in the NFC Championship Game.